Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Southern Bracken - Pteridium pseudocaudatum   (Clute) Christenhusz
Members of Dennstaedtiaceae:
Members of Pteridium with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 2 » Family Dennstaedtiaceae
Author(Clute) Christenhusz
DistributionThe long-used name Pteridium aquilinum has been split recently, such that that name is now reserved for Eurasian and other Old World plants. North American plants are now P. latiusculum and P. pseudocaudatum. The former occurs mostly in the Mountains and Piedmont, while the latter occurs mainly in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont. Although a few herbaria do seem to have re-examined at least some of their specimens, and the SERNEC database contains a handful of specimens labeled as P. pseudocaudatum, the editors believe that mapping such incomplete data would be misleading at the present time. However, Sorrie extracted distribution data from NCU specimens in Jan. 2024.

Weakley (2018) indicates that this species occurs from MA and MO south to the Gulf Coast, though primarily found on the Coastal Plain.
AbundanceCommon to locally abundant in the Coastal Plain and eastern and southern portions of the Piedmont; a few records from the low Mountains of Henderson, Polk, and Transylvania counties.
HabitatThis species grows in acidic soil, usually in sandy places. Favored habitats are pine/scrub oak sandhills, dry pine flatwoods, and sandy fields.
PhenologyFruits from July to September.
IdentificationThe two combined species are very similar. Collectively, the group has a widely triangular blade, about as wide as long, about 2-3 feet tall, at times to 4 feet tall, of which the petiole accounts for 6-10 inches. The blade is bipinnate-pinnatifid to tri-pinnate, with the ultimate pinnules being lanceolate and entire in shape. The blade tends to be rather thick and with a shiny upper surface. The sori are linear and continuous, along the margins of the pinnules on the blade underside. Weakley (2018) indicates that P. latiusculum has "Leaf segment margins slightly to moderately pubescent (with 1-12 hairs per mm); terminal (caudate) tip of the basalmost pinnule of the basal pinna (3-) avg. 12 (-28)% as long as the entire pinnule; terminal segments of well-developed pinnules generally 2-4x as long as broad, about 3-8 mm wide" -- versus P. pseudocaudatum having "Leaf segment margins glabrous (rarely sparsely pilose with as many as 4 hairs per mm); terminal (caudate) tip of the basalmost pinnule of the basal pinna (16-) avg. 25 (-45)% as long as the entire pinnule; terminal segments of well-developed pinnules generally 6-15x as long as broad, about 2-5 mm wide." As a result, P. latiusculum has leaves with wider ultimate pinnules (thumb-like) and the terminal ends (lobes) of the pinnules are rather short; P. pseudocaudatum has more narrowly cut ultimate pinnules (finger-like), and a distinctly long terminal tip to pinnules. This is the default and abundant species of the pair in the Coastal Plain, especially in Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) dominated sites. As this species is seemingly not rare in the Piedmont and mountains, biologists need to take care separating these two there, though P. latiusculum is the much more common form in these two provinces.
Taxonomic CommentsSee above.

Other Common Name(s)Southern Bracken Fern. For the combined two taxa, the names of Bracken Fern or Bracken are recommended.
State RankS5
Global RankG5T5 [G5]
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B.A. SorrieSandhills Game Land, longleaf pine upland. RichmondPhoto_natural
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