The common bracken or bracken fern as Pteridium aquilinum is commonly known, has a large number of common names in many languages, as it grows in the neighbourhood of many, diverse human communities in many countries.
The plant is a deciduous perennial fern belonging to the family Dennstaedtiaceae, adapted to temperate and subtropical conditions globally. The resemblance of the frond to an eagle’s wing has been presented as one of the explanations for the choice of the specific name, aquilinum.
This is regarded as the most abundant fern on earth in our time. The species distribution in South Africa is widespread, absent from the central and northwestern parts but occurring in all provinces except the Northern Cape.
The habitat is diverse, mostly well-drained sandy soils in full sun. The plant tends to spread over disturbed land. It is even considered invasive in countries where it is indigenous, such as England. The rhizomes survive fires, resprouting afterwards more vigorously than many competing species.
In South Africa research has shown bracken fires to be hotter than adjacent grass fires, increasing mortality in plants such as Protea caffra that normally resprout after fires.
The plant contains carcinogens. In Japan where the young stems are eaten as a vegetable the high incidence of stomach cancer may be related to this practice (Bean and Johns, 2005; Wikipedia; www.riel.cdu.edu.au; http://redlist.sanbi.org).