Native. Perennial. Propagates by spores and by rootstocks. Season of leaf-production: Early spring until autumn frosts. Fruiting fronds: Ripe in August. Range: Throughout the world. In this country most troublesome on the Pacific Coast. Habitat: Upland fields and pastures, open woods, and thickets.
Every one knows the Bracken under some name, for it is the most widely distributed of all the ferns and its distinctive, very large dull green, three-parted fronds are like no other. Most members of the Fern Family demand shade and moisture, but this one is not so particular. It varies much in size. In the Eastern States it is usually one to three feet tail, but on the Pacific Coast it grows six to eight feet, and on the moors and mountains of Scotland the horns of the "stately stag" are barely to be seen above it. (Fig. 1.)
Its creeping rootstock is black, somewhat less than a half-inch in diameter, often twenty feet or more long, and penetrates the soil deeply. All summer it continues to send up the green, three-parted fronds, each segment of which is in turn twice divided. The uncurled crosiers are gray and softly woolly, and when unrolling they resemble the claw of a large bird, which accounts for its name of Turkey-foot Brake. When ripe the fruiting fronds have a continuous edging of brown sporangia which at first are covered by the reflexed margin of the leaf, but later, as the spores mature, this is pushed away.
Fig. 1. - Common Brake or Bracken (Pteris aquilina). X 1/3. One branch of three-parted frond.
Bracken is one of the few ferns for which man has found practical uses. The uncurled crosiers are edible as "greens" cooked like asparagus; the young rootstocks are also used for food and in brewing root beer; the mature fronds are cut and dried to use as bedding for stock; and in Europe the plant is still often used in thatching roofs.
"In June and in August, as well doth appeere, Is best to mowe Brakes of all times of the Yeere," said Thomas Tusser in "Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husban-drie," written in 1557. And the advice still holds good, especially for grasslands and for steep hillsides where tillage is not desirable. Bracken is quite intolerant of lime in the soil, and in such places a liberal dressing of lime, applied just after cutting the fern, is a check to its growth and also an encouragement to that of the grass and clover. But plowing and manuring are the surest means of suppressing the weed, for it resents cultivation. Indeed, hardy as it is, transplanting is quite difficult except when very young. The deep-running rootstocks may not all be destroyed the first year, but two or three seasons of such good tillage as to suppress all leaf growth should entirely kill the weed.