General – only large northern fern with a three part form on a tall stalk (all other large ferns have single fronds rising from the rootstalk); fronds arising singly from a deeply subterranean, much-branched rhizome; commonly found in large patches; up to 1 m high.
Bracken Fern Leaves – single, horizontally growing; broad, triangle-shaped; leaflets opposite on the main axis, the lower 2 considerably larger and twice-divided, the upper ones mainly once-divided; sub-leaflets alternate, margins lobed or wavy, edges turned under; leafstalk woody.
Spore Clusters – spores are borne in linear strips beneath the outer margins of the pinnules of fertile fronds.
Deep well-drained soils with good water-holding capacity; it may dominate other vegetation on such sites. Common throughout Northwestern Ontario’s boreal region; circumboreal.
The ash was used as a source of potash in the soap and glass industry until 1860 and for making soap and bleach. The rhizomes were used in tanning leathers and to dye wool yellow. Most commonly used today as a food for humans. The newly emerging croziers or fiddleheads are picked in spring and may be consumed fresh or preserved by salting, pickling, or sun drying.
Both fronds and rhizomes have been used in brewing beer, and rhizome starch has been used as a substitute for arrowroot. Bread can be made out of dried and powered rhizomes alone or with other flour. American Indians cooked the rhizomes, then peeled and ate them or pounded the starchy fiber into flour. In Japan starch from the rhizomes is used to make confections. Bracken fern is grown commercially for use as a food and herbal remedy in Canada, the United States, Siberia, China and Japan.