Scientific Name:
Pteridium esculentum (G.Forst.) Cockayne, Rep. Bot. Survey Tongariro Natl. Park 34 (1908)
  • Pteris esculenta G.Forst., Pl. Esc. 74 (1786)
  • Allosorus esculentus (G.Forst.) C.Presl, Tent. Pterid. 154 (1836)
  • Pteris aquilina var. esculenta (G.Forst.) Hook.f., Bot. Antarct. Voy. II (Fl. Nov.-Zel.) Part II, 25 (1854)
  • Cincinalis esculenta (G.Forst.) Trevis., Atti Soc. Ital. Sci. Nat. 17: 239 (1874)
  • Ornithopteris esculenta (G.Forst.) J.Sm., Hist. Fil. 298 (1875)
  • Pteridium aquilinum var. esculentum (G.Forst.) Kuhn, Chaetopt., 27 (1882)
  • Pteridium aquilinum subsp. esculentum (G.Forst.) C.Chr., Index Filic. 591, 597 (1906)
Lectotype (selected by Brownsey 1989): Nov. Zeeland [New Zealand], Herb. G. Forster 258, BM 001048405!
From the Latin esculentus (edible), a reference to the use of bracken rhizomes as a food source, especially by Māori.
Vernacular Name(s):
austral bracken; bracken

Terrestrial ferns. Rhizomes long-creeping, bearing multicellular hairs. Fronds 250–2000 mm long or more. Stipes 1–10 mm diameter, bearing petiolar roots distally above the junction with the rhizome. Rachises with swollen nectaries at the base of the primary pinnae. Laminae 2-pinnate-pinnatifid to 5-pinnate, broadly ovate or broadly elliptic, bearing hairs, lacking scales. Some lamina segments adnate at base with long-decurrent bases either extending along the axes, or often becoming separated as free lobes forming narrow wings. Ultimate lamina segments linear and entire; adaxial surface dark green and glossy; abaxial surface paler green, bearing white hairs and minute gnarled trichomes that create a farinaceous or mealy appearance. When fertile, sori almost continuous along margins of ultimate segments, protected by the inrolled lamina margin.


Pteridium esculentum is distinguished from the northern hemisphere diploid species, P. aquilinum, by the presence of petiolar roots at the base of the stipe above the junction with the rhizome, winged axes that appear as free lobes or as long-decurrent bases to the lamina segments (Thomson 2016), and gnarled trichomes on the abaxial lamina surface that cause a farinaceous or mealy appearance (Thomson 2012). These features are all absent in P. aquilinum.


North Island: Northland, Auckland, Volcanic Plateau, Gisborne, Taranaki, Southern North Island.

South Island: Western Nelson, Sounds-Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Fiordland.

Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, Chatham Islands, Stewart Island, Antipodes Island.

Altitudinal range: 0–1000 m.

Pteridium esculentum occurs on Raoul Island (Sykes & West 1996), the Three Kings Islands, and in coastal, lowland, and montane sites throughout the North Island and much of the South Island. It has been little documented from the driest parts of south Canterbury and Otago. In the North Island it grows from near sea level to over 1000 m in the northern Ruahine Ranges, and in the South Island up to 1000 m on Mt Benmore, Marlborough. It also occurs on Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, and Antipodes Island.

Also Australia (Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania), Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Central America from Mexico south, Caribbean islands, South America except Chile (see Brownsey 1989; Thomson 2012).


Pteridium esculentum is a serious weed of pasture, aggressively invading cleared or burnt land and forming extensive populations by means of its underground rhizomes. It eventually disappears under regenerating scrub and forest. It is found in rough and reverting pasture, on road cuttings and banks, in ditches, on lake and forest margins, in peat bogs, on old sand dunes, on cliff faces, in forest clearings and disturbed ground, along river beds and terraces, in tussock land, and on heated ground. Although mostly found in the open, it also occurs under podocarp, broadleaved and beech forest, under mānuka and kānuka, in coastal and other scrub, and under pine plantations.

Indigenous (Non-endemic)
Number of subspecific taxa in New Zealand within Pteridium esculentum (G.Forst.) Cockayne
Indigenous (Non-endemic)1

n = 52 (Brownlie 1954, 1957).


Thomson (2012) recognised two species of diploid bracken: the predominantly northern hemisphere Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn and the mainly southern hemisphere Pteridium esculentum. He further recognised 11 subspecies within P. aquilinum and two subspecies within P. esculentum – subsp. esculentum confined to Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, and subsp. arachnoideum (Kaulf.) J.A.Thomson confined to Central and South America. However, Schwartsburd et al. (2014) continued to treat the South American plants as a distinct species, P. arachnoideum (Kaulf.) Maxon.

Brownlie, G. 1954: Introductory note to cyto-taxonomic studies of New Zealand ferns. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand 82: 665–666.
Brownlie, G. 1957: Cyto-taxonomic studies on New Zealand Pteridaceae. New Phytologist 56: 207–209.
Brownsey, P.J. 1989: The taxonomy of bracken (Pteridium: Dennstaedtiaceae) in Australia. Australian Systematic Botany 2: 113–128.
Brownsey, P.J.; Perrie, L.R. 2018: Dennstaedtiaceae. In: Breitwieser, I.; Wilton, A.D. (ed.) Flora of New Zealand — Ferns and Lycophytes. Fascicle 19. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln.
Brownsey, P.J.; Perrie, L.R. 2022: Dennstaedtiaceae. Edition 2. In: Glenny, D. (ed.) Flora of New Zealand - Ferns and Lycophytes. Fascicle 19. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln.
Christensen, C. 1905–1906: Index Filicum. Hagerup, Copenhagen.
Cockayne, L. 1908: Report on a Botanical Survey of the Tongariro National Park. Government Printer, Wellington.
Connor, H.E. 1977: The Poisonous Plants in New Zealand. Edition 2. Government Printer, Wellington. [as Pteridium aquilinum var. esculentum (G.Forst.) Kuhn]
de Lange, P.J.; Rolfe, J.R.; Barkla J.W.; Courtney, S.P.; Champion, P.D.; Perrie, L.R.; Beadel, S.N.; Ford, K.A.; Breitwieser, I.; Schönberger, I.; Hindmarsh-Walls, R.; Heenan, P.B.; Ladley, K. 2018: Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2017. New Zealand Threat Classification Series. No. 22. [Not Threatened]
de Lange, P.J.; Rolfe, J.R.; Champion, P.D.; Courtney, S.P.; Heenan, P.B.; Barkla, J.W.; Cameron, E.K.; Norton, D.A.; Hitchmough, R.A. 2013: Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 3. Department of Conservation, Wellington. [Not Threatened]
Forster, J.G.A. 1786: De Plantis Esculentis Insularum Oceani Australis commentatio botanica. Haude & Spener, Berlin.
Hooker, J.D. 1854–1855: The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H.M. Discovery Ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. II. Flora Novae-Zelandiae. Part II. Flowerless plants. Lovell Reeve, London.
Kuhn, F.A.M. 1882: Die Gruppe der Chaetopterides unter den Polypodiaceen. In: Festschrift zu dem Fünfzigjährigen Jubiläum der Königstädtischen Realschule zu Berlin. Winckelmann, Berlin. 322–348.
Presl, C.B. 1836: Tentamen Pteridographiae. Haase, Prague.
Schwartsburd, P.B; de Moraes, P.L.R.; Lopes-Mattos, K.L.B. 2014: Recognition of two morpho-types in eastern South American brackens (Pteridium – Dennstaedtiaceae – Polypodiopsida). Phytotaxa 170: 103–117.
Smith, J. 1875: Historia Filicum; an exposition of the nature, number, and organography of ferns. Macmillan, London.
Sykes, W.R.; West, C.J. 1996: New records and other information on the vascular flora of the Kermadec Islands. New Zealand Journal of Botany 34(4): 447–462.
Thomson, J.A. 2012: Taxonomic status of diploid Southern hemisphere brackens (Pteridium: Dennstaedtiaceae). Telopea 14: 43–48.
Thomson, J.A. 2016: Free axial lobes: an important diagnostic character in Pteridium (Dennstaedtiaceae). Telopea 19: 193–200.
Trevisan de Saint-Léon, V.B.A. 1874: Sylloge sporophytarum Italiae. I. Prothallogamae. Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali 17: 213–258.