Wednesday 22 September 2010

Why Bracken?

When trying to come up with a title for this blog, I felt the same excitement and exasperation as when trying to come up with a title for a painting or a short story.  It's a challenge, but a fun one.  I  brainstormed, jotting down words and images and ideas that seemed to be in keeping with the direction this blog might go in. 

Ferns have always been a magical plant to me.  Perhaps it's where they live: on the floors of Rackhamesque forests.  Perhaps it's how they look: unfurling their leaves until they become a green sea of delicate, yet sturdy plants harbouring all manner of magical creature.  

Bracken, that quite special type of fern, I have only recently encountered in the flesh.  On a visit to magical Dartmoor last November I found hills covered in a beautiful mauve-brown plant.  As I approached one of them I saw that it was a type of fern lying in a tangled mass against the granite hill.  I asked someone about it and was told it was bracken.  On a return visit this past June, the hill was transformed.  Gone was the mauve-brown mesh.  Instead there was an army of green ferns on spear-like stalks almost as tall as a person.  The transformation was incredible. 

The idea of being "beneath" the bracken, submerged in the secret world within it, a world which could transform itself so completely, appealed. 

Then I tried to think whether I'd encountered ferns in fairy tales.  The only one I could come up with was in the English folk tale "The Fairy Widower" (a variation of  "Cherry of Zennor").  The girl of the story is holding a fern leaf when she meets the fairy man, and he makes her seal a promise on a fern-leaf. 

I'm sure there must be other examples of ferns as a motif in folk and fairy tales.  I'll keep my eyes open.  If anyone else knows of any, please feel free to add a comment. 


  1. When the bracken begins to grow in the spring, it unfurls from a tight-wound spiral like a bishop's crozier.

    Fern-seed is meant to make you invisible, I believe!

  2. Katherine, I would love to witness the unfurling of the bracken in springtime: such a vivacious plant.

    I'd not heard that about the seed. What a compelling idea...

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