Saturday, May 14, 2011

western bracken fern ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

western bracken fern
Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens

I generally think of ferns as growing in heavily shaded areas near water sources, like at Garland Ranch Regional Park, Butano State Park, and Wilder Ranch State Park. However, this native bracken fern surprised me by growing profusely in a dry, sandy area after fire.

The first 2 pictures were taken in an area that was burned in 2009. In the second picture, past the line of what I believe are Ceanothus shrubs, there's a change in vegetation due to a change in the soil; initially I thought the change was due to different years of fires. The last picture was from an area that was burned in 2010. It looks like rows of a farm crop, which was a result of digital geophysics. I didn't understand the mapping process as it was briefly explained by Chris, who works for USACE (US Army Corps of Engineers) and was one of our guides. She had very long legs and I had to jog to keep up with her as she talked, so I missed most of the details. I do know heavy machinery was used to create the rows. Apparently, bracken fern is well adapted to fire and disturbed areas.

Our other guide Gail, who works for BRAC (Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission), mentioned she was reading a book that explained many western Native Americans used 6-foot long bracken fern rhizomes to create the dark designs in their basket weaving. As usual, I had to look it up. There are plenty of online pictures of willow or sedge baskets accented with redbud and bracken fern "roots". The only site I could find to show anything about actually using rhizomes is this Yokuts Baskets site - make sure to take a look at two of the pictures on the bottom of the page; it looks like a lot of work. Mostly, I found online mentions of eating bracken fern, even though it is generally considered toxic.

For more information than you can shake a stick (er, rhizome) at, check out this very informative site about Pteridium aquilinum.


Jennifer said...

That may be the answer to a fern I noticed growing in a very dry area in my yard. When I first noticed it I thought.....How on earth is a fern growing here? Now I'm going to take a double look.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I remember a woodland fire when I lived in England, and the Bracken Ferns were some of the very first plants to reappear and green up the landscape. They're certainly tough ferns, and in some areas here where we've tried to remove them, they just keep popping back up. They are pretty though, especially in a swath. I hadn't heard about using them in basket making before.

Nature ID (Katie) said...

Jennifer, let me know what you find.

Clare, you lived in England? Cool. I read that even though they're native to the UK (indeed much of the world), they can be very invasive and there was some kind of eradication program to try to get rid of them. I found the basket use to be interesting (check out the Yokuts Baskets link above). Digging up the rhizomes probably helped keep the ferns in check.