Pteridium aquilinum (bracken)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Pteridium esculentum (Forst.) Nakai
- Pteridium revolutum (Bl.) Nakai
- Pteris aquilina L.
International Common Names
- English: bracken fern
- Spanish: felguera; helecho comun; helecho hembra; palma (Mexico); pecho de caballo; petalillo
- French: fougère
- Portuguese: feto-ordinario
Local Common Names
- Belgium: adelaarsvaren
- Brazil: feio; feto; pluma grande; samambaia
- Canada: American bracken; American brake; brake; eastern bracken; fouère à l'aigle; fougère d'aigle; fougère impériale; fougère-aigle commune; fougère-aigle de l'est; fougère-aigle de l'ouest; fougère-paille; grande fougère; grande fougère de l'ouest; hog brake; pasture brake; polypode à feuilles recourbée; ptéride aigle; ptéride aigle-impériale; ptéridie aigle-impériale; ptéridie d'aigle; ptéridie latiuscule; ptéridium à ailes d'aigles; pteridium aquilin; ptéridium des aigles; ptéridium large; ptéris aigle-impériale; western bracken
- Denmark: ornebregne
- El Salvador: crespillo
- Fiji: mata; qato; qato cuva; quato
- Finland: sananjalka
- Germany: Farnkraut
- Guinea: gbologola; gbowolowoulou; kossé; koumto; sankan
- Indonesia: pakis jemblung
- Italy: felse aquilina
- Japan: warabi
- Korea, Republic of: kosari
- Madagascar: apanga
- Netherlands: adelaarsvaren, gewoone
- Norway: einstape
- Philippines: pakong buwaya
- Puerto Rico: felpa
- South Africa: adelaarsvaring; brake; eagle fern; hog-pasture brake; hombewe; muvanguluvha; pasture brake; ukozani
- Sweden: oernbraeken, vanlig
- Thailand: kut kin
- USA: eastern brakenfern; southern bracken; tailed bracken; western brackenfern
- Zambia: luputu
- PTEAQ (Pteridium aquilinum)
- PTERE (Pteridium revolutum)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Pteridophyta
- Class: Pteridopsida
- Family: Dennstaedtiaceae
- Genus: Pteridium
- Species: Pteridium aquilinum
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
This group of closely related subspecies probably has the largest world distribution of any plant taxa, occurring in much of the temperate and tropical regions on all continents as well as mainly oceanic islands. The extent of the native range is very broad in the general literature and countries in its native range are listed for Africa, Asia, Europe and North America in USDA-ARS (2003). There are very few reports of P. aquilinum as an introduced species. It can become extremely widespread and cover large parts of the landscape, for example, 8% of the area of Scotland, UK. However, there is much regional variation in the recognized types of cover (continuous versus discontinuous) (Birnie et al., 2000). Whether the species is weedy or invasive in each of the countries when known to occur is debatable, and as such has been left as 'unknown' in the Distribution table. It may, however, be considered invasive in at least some of these countries by using any of the definitions, and as such is classified as an invasive species in the Risk and Impacts table.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Feb 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Cameroon||Present||Native||Original citation: Youta-Happi, 1998|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present||Native|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Present||Native|
|South Africa||Present, Widespread||Native||Original citation: Bromilow (1995)|
|Tanzania||Present, Localized||Native||Original citation: Hemp, 2000|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Present, Widespread||Native|
|Federal Republic of Yugoslavia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|North Macedonia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|Russia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Central Russia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Eastern Siberia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Northern Russia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Russian Far East||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Southern Russia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Western Siberia||Present, Widespread||Native|
|San Marino||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Balearic Islands||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Canary Islands||Present, Widespread||Native|
|United Kingdom||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-Channel Islands||Present, Widespread||Native|
|Canada||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Newfoundland and Labrador||Present||Native|
|-Prince Edward Island||Present||Native|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon||Present||Native|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present||Native|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Tasmania||Present, Widespread||Native||Original citation: Anon. (2003)|
|New Zealand||Present, Widespread||Native|
|Norfolk Island||Present, Localized||Native|
|-Fernando de Noronha||Present||Native|
|-Rio de Janeiro||Present||Native|
|-Rio Grande do Norte||Present||Native|
|-Rio Grande do Sul||Present||Native|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The chromosome number of P. aquilinum var. aquilinum is 2n=104 with a nuclear DNA amount of 12.8 pg (Grime et al., 1988). In his taxonomic re-assessment of the genus Thomson (2000) concluded that the DNA evidence suggested that morphotypes in Pteridium were "determined by specific qualitative and quantitative combinations of a limited number of highly conserved, additively assorted, genomic elements". It exhibits polymorphism for cyanogenesis (Grime et al., 1988). Morphological and morphometric analysis by Thomson (2000) elucidated some genetic relationships between varieties, including the distinguishing of an additional grouping of Atlantic Island (Azores, Madeira) and European brackens as an 'aquilinum complex' including var. aquilinum and a number of morphotypes recognised by C.N. Page and others at various taxonomic levels (near atlanticum, fulvum, pinetorum, osmundaceum). Also, he confirmed that var. yarrabense was a tetraploid hybrid (2n=208) of var. esculentum and var. revolutum, that at least those accessions of var. caudatum examined were tetraploid hybrids (2n=208) involving var. arachnoideum as one progenitor, and that the closest relatives of var. decompositum were var. latiusculum and var. revolutum; and provided evidence of close genomic relationships between var. latiusculum, var. pseudocaudatum and var. pubescens in North America. Thomson (2000) suggested that Tryon's varieties africanum, aquilinum, arachnoideum, decompositum, esculentum, latiusculum and revolutum might best be treated as species; pseudocaudatum and pubescens as varieties within latiusculum; yarrabense and caudatum (at least in part) as hybrids. Thomson and Alonso-Amelot (2002) have dealt with the taxonomic status and relationships of Pteridium caudatum in Central and South America. However, this datasheet does not separate the species as described by Thomson (2000) and covers all varieties within the over-arching P. aquilinum.
Physiology and Phenology
In temperate climates, fronds emerge from late spring onwards and persist until the autumn. Spores ripen in August to September and are shed in August to October in the UK. Under experimental conditions half of the spores take 4 days to germinate and germination is to some extent inhibited by darkness, and the prothallus will grow better in unshaded habitats (Grime et al., 1988). In Western Europe the shoots are copper brown during the dormant season and the fronds will be still standing for much of the winter and only gradually break up. The fronds will grow after the winter season whereas in tropical regions this will tend to occur after fires. Wynn et al. (2000) demonstrated significant differences in response to light and temperature regimes between four genotypes grown under experimental conditions. There is much variation in both the total dry mass per unit area (1.8-5.1 kg/m²) and the total rhizome dry mass (0.24-0.42 kg/m²).
Pteridium spp. are to a large extent fire-resistant as the rhizomes send up new shoots after the old ones are burnt. In tropical regions the species is often referred to as a typical postfire successional species (Wesche et al., 2000) and after fire may form so-called 'bracken savannas' (Beard, 1953). However, in Sudan, it is absent from the most fiercely burnt hillsides (Jackson, 1956). In Hawaii, where it is uncommon, it is one of the few seasonal sub-montane native species to increase in burned compared to unburned areas (D'Antonio et al., 2000). Similarly, in much of the temperate zones it is known to be fire-responsive (Cwynar, 1987; Skre et al., 1998). Indigenous peoples such as the Maoris in New Zealand would appear to have been responsible for the increase of the fern through their use of fire (Germann and Holland, 2001).
Up to 30 million spores may be produced by a single frond and spore production tends to be greater in open habitats. Spores are wind-dispersed. Viable spores are often found in abundance within a soil profile, and a buried spore bank is suspected. Spores may remain viable for up to 10 years. Natural regeneration from spores may occur in spring and is mainly restricted to areas of disturbed or burnt ground. Expansion of established clones will be chiefly vegetative (Grime et al., 1988).
Pteridium spp. are commonly found at varying altitudes. In the UK, P. aquilinum is found from sea level to 590 m but is more abundant in the uplands (Grime et al., 1988). In the Imatong Mountains of Sudan its altitudinal range is 1800-2600 m (Jackson, 1956) and up to 3200 m in Colombia (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003). It prefers acid soil, tolerating soil pH of 3.0-7.6. However, in the UK, it is most frequent and abundant below pH 4.5 and particularly on deep soils. It is found on a range of shaded and unshaded habitats but grows best on productive brown-earths and more open habitats. Young shoots are very sensitive to frost and trampling by large mammals (Grime et al., 1988).
The roots bear vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza (Grime et al., 1988). The extrafloral nectaries of young fronds provide food for ants and these may rid the plant of insect predators (Tempel, 1983; Grime et al., 1988). In Western Europe herbivory by large mammals such as deer, results in a reduction in many palatable species and with the expansion of P. aquilinum (Lameire et al., 2000; Kirby, 2001). In the UK, vegetational change from arable land to woodland over 100 years resulted in the unexpectedly disappearance of P. aquilinum once the woodland had become established (Harmer et al., 2001). Often there is little vegetation under the canopy of P. aquilinum, just a carpet of its litter. The plant is also considered to be allelopathic (Grime et al., 1988).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||9||29|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||0||6||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- very acid
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page
Social ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts human health
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
Uses ListTop of page
Human food and beverage
- Poisonous to mammals
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.Cultural Control
The plant is susceptible to damage by the trampling of fronds by large mammals, but this does little to control the plant. Frequent liming (to increase soil pH) and fertilizer applications used in upland grassland improvement also have the additional benefit of reducing infestations of P. aquilinum, as it is a plant of infertile acid soils. Reseeding with preferable forage grasses or herbaceous species also appears to reduce the cover of P. aquilinum, such as has been achieved with Festuca rubra and Vicia cassubica in Bulgaria (Petrov and Marrs, 2000).
Duc et al. (2000) have considered the mechanical control of P. aquilinum in the UK by cutting it once or twice a year, which reduced the total dry mass per unit area by approximately 60% after 5 years. Any mechanical treatment must be conducted over a number of years if it is to have any noticeable effect (Marrs et al., 2000). Also timing of the cuts is very important, for example the optimal time is in the autumn, before P. aquilinum has transferred its nutrient reserves from the above-ground parts back down to the rhizomes for the dormant winter period.
Control by herbicide is generally difficult. Asulam has been the main chemical used in control programmes in the UK since the early 1970s, primarily because it is licensed for aerial spraying. Of other chemicals that have been tried, only glyphosate has been used in some situations where P. aquilinum is one of a number of weeds to be controlled. In recent years, aerial spraying using helicopters has been carried out on around 5000-8000 ha per year. However, only about 25% of sites sprayed with asulam show long-term suppression of bracken whilst the remaining sites normally revert back to complete P. aquilinum cover within 5-10 years. Therefore appropriate follow-up treatment is essential, such as knapsack or vehicle-based spot spraying of missed areas or regenerating fronds (Pakeman et al., 2003). In Bulgaria, glyphosate applied to a permanent meadow infested with P. aquilinum reduced the infestation but it rapidly recovered where no follow-up operations were carried out, and was more successful when carried out in combination with a follow-up weed wiping application of glyphosate (Petrov and Marrs, 2000). Metsulfuronmethyl and glyphosate-trimesium are recommended for use on P. esculentum in Tasmania (Anon., 2003).
In the UK, where P. aquilinum is a major weed of pasture in particular, studies on biological control were initiated in the 1970s. Lawson (1976) identified 40 arthropod species feeding on P. aquilinum, but noted their inability to prevent spread of infestations owing to the impact of native natural enemies of the arthropods. Lawton (1988) summarized the situation in the UK and discussed the requirements for successful biological control agents, emphasising the need for agents of the same subspecies of the weed, comparable climates, and for agents which would be free from attack ny native natural enemies. South Africa appeared to provide the best likelihood of finding such agents, and Lawson (1988) listed arthropods associated with P. aquilinum there, from hitherto unpublished observations. Two defoliating moths, Panotina angularis and Conservula cinisigna and an unidentified eriophyid mite were considered promising. The moths were imported into quarantine in the UK, screened and found to be host specific (Fowler et al., 1989). However, the programme was abandoned because of the costs of field testing and doubts over the wisdom of using biological control to manage a native weed (Cruttwell McFadyen, 1998). Comparative studies on the arthropod fauna of P. aquilinum on other continents; New Mexico, USA (Lawton, 1982) and Brazil (Martins et al., 1995) have also been made.
Duc et al. (2000) reviewed the responses of fronds to control treatments in Great Britain and noted great variability even within a small geographical area. Follow-up application of herbicide several years after the start of a control programme enhanced the efficacy of all treatments. To develop a control strategy in the UK, Duc et al. (2003) stated the following factors must be considered: that rhizome mass differs between sites and in response to control treatments; cutting twice per year is generally most effective; where cutting is impossible, herbicide treatment should be applied. and the weather may affect rhizome mass, with wet years being detrimental. Also a combination of mechanical and chemical methods may be more effective under some conditions. Pakeman et al. (2003) have pointed out that P. aquilinum control has to be seen as part of a much larger land use/management strategy and they suggest a variety of control scenarios and restoration practices.
ReferencesTop of page
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Anon., 2003. Bracken (Pteridium esculentum Forst. F.). Service Sheet. Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment, Hobart. http://www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/RPIO-4ZW9TH?open.
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Kairo M, Ali B, Cheesman O, Haysom K, Murphy S, 2003. Invasive species threats in the Caribbean region. Report to the Nature Conservancy. In: Invasive species threats in the Caribbean region. Report to the Nature Conservancy. Curepe, Trinidad and Tobago: CAB International. 132 pp. http://www.issg.org/database/species/reference_files/Kairo%20et%20al,%202003.pdf
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