|Bracken at Chatswood West, Australia|
P. esculentum grows from creeping rhizomes, which are covered with reddish hair. From them arise single large roughly triangular fronds, which grow to 0.5–2 metres (1 ft 8 in–6 ft 7 in) tall. The fronds are stiff with a brown stripe.
It is found in all states of Australia apart from the Northern Territory, as well as New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Malaysia, Polynesia, and New Caledonia. Within Victoria it is widespread and common to altitudes of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). In New South Wales, it occurs in across central, eastern and southern parts of the state. It can also be weedy and invade disturbed areas. In Australia, it grows near the southern and western coastlines, as far north as Geraldton.
Like its northern hemisphere relatives, Pteridium esculentum is very quick to colonise disturbed areas and can outcompete other plants to form a dense understorey. It is often treated as a weed. It does create a more humid sheltered microclimate under its leaves and is food for a variety of native insects. Two species of fruit fly (Drosophila) were recorded in a field study near Sydney, Another study near Sydney yielded 17 herbivorous arthropods (15 insects and two mites), notable for the lack of Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) and Coleoptera (beetles).
The Māori of New Zealand used the rhizomes of P. esculentum (aruhe) as a staple food, especially for exploring or hunting groups away from permanent settlements; much of the widespread distribution of this species in present-day New Zealand is in fact a consequence of prehistoric deforestation and subsequent tending of aruhe stands on rich soils (which produced the best rhizomes). The rhizomes were air-dried so that they could be stored and became lighter; for consumption, they were briefly heated and then softened with a patu aruhe (rhizome pounder); the starch could then be sucked from the fibers by each diner, or collected if it were to be prepared for a larger feast. Patu aruhe were significant items and several distinct styles were developed.
Pteridium esculentum contains the known bracken carcinogen ptaquiloside. Concentrations of ptaquiloside in bracken in New Zealand vary greatly, and in a high proportion of stands ptaquiloside is not found. A higher incidence of ptaquiloside, and some very high concentrations, are found in areas where bovine enzootic haematuria and/or acute haemorrhagic syndrome was known to occur.
- "Pteris esculenta G.Forst.". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government.
- "Pteridium esculentum (G.Forst.) Cockayne". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government.
- "Pteridium esculentum". Australian National Botanic Gardens website. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
- New South Wales Flora Online: Pteridium esculentum by Peter G. Wilson, Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, Sydney, Australia.
- "Pteridium esculentum". Grimwade Plant Collection. University of Melbourne. Retrieved June 23, 2010.
- "Pteridium esculentum". FloraBase. Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Western Australia.
- Mesibov, Bob. "Bracken and Bugs". The Unique Flora of Tasmania. Hobart District Group of The Australian Plants Society - Tasmania Inc. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
- Thomson, J. A., Jackson, M. J. and Bock, I. R. (1982). "Contrasting resource utilisation in two Australian species of Drosophila Fallen (Diptera) feeding on the bracken fern Pteridium scopoli". Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 21 (1): 29–30. doi:10.1111/j.1440-6055.1982.tb01760.x.
- Shuter, E. and Westoby, M. (1982). "Herbivorous arthropods on bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Khun) in Australia compared with elsewhere". Australian Journal of Ecology 17 (3): 329–339. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.1992.tb00815.x.
- McGlone, Matt S., Wilmshirst, Janet M. & Leach, Helen M. (2005). "An ecological and historical review of bracken (Pteridium esculentum) in New Zealand, and its cultural significance" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 28 (2): 165–184.
- Fletcher M.T., Hayes P.Y., Somerville M.J., De Voss J.J."Ptesculentoside, a novel norsesquiterpene glucoside from the Australian bracken fern Pteridium esculentum". Tetrahedron Letters. 51 (15) (pp 1997-1999), 2010.
- LH Rasmussen, DR Lauren, BL Smith & HCB Hansen, "Variation in ptaquiloside content in bracken (Pteridium esculentum (Forst. f) Cockayne) in New Zealand" doi:10.1080/00480169.2008.36851 New Zealand Veterinary Journal Volume 56, Issue 6, 2008