June 17, 2010

Bracken-look-alike Fern

Recently I had a chance to visit an uphill region and found so many different varieties of fern. One of them look like the pretty European bracken. So I took some photos of them standing prettily by a pond which is still used by travellers to wash their cars and even to bathe in during the dry season. Villagers walk for a mile or two just to come here for their water supply when their rivers dry up or are too murky for bathing and washing of clothes.

Bracken is an old world vegetation. In fact in England it is used for lining boxes for packaging purposes. In China earthen ware too are packed with bracken as lining.

In Sarawak this kind of fern (paku pakis) which looks like bracken is found mainly in the hilly and perhaps uncultivated areas. According to the natives this fern is grown where nothing else can grow. A lot of this fern can be found along the highway from Tutong to Kuala Beliat in what we call the White Sand area.

Apparently the cooling effects of the leaves provide a shelter for pythons which love to sleep under these greens. So whenever our indigenous people walk in the forests they either avoid cutting across bracken or if they have to they will use a long stick to "beat the bushes".

The young stems (not the leaves) of the fern or paku can be stir fried with belacan to form a nice afternoon dish. The rhizomes can also be eaten and it seems that many old folks had said that eating them can help get rid of intestinal worms.

In the days when our uncles and cousins in the Rajang Valley tapped rubber these fern leaves help to filter latex. Any impurities would be trapped by the fern leaves and can be thrown out of the pail or tin. I wonder how many of my Foochow friendsd remember that. And for a short while these leaves would be on top of the tins of solidifying/coagulating latex. (latex tins were halved biscuit or kerosene tins - a recycling idea of that period of our history.)

I remember plucking these ferns but as a child I was unaware that snakes could be lurking under the ferns.

In later years these ferns were used in our art lessons and art teachers in primary school would bring them into the class. We would use a ruler and an old toothbrush to spray tiny drops of water colour onto our art paper and a beautiful pattern of the fern would appear! There were so many different ways our Art teachers could use bracken. I believe these days Art teachers are different from those of my time. The love for nature was such an important element of our art syllabus.

It is very intriguing how a fern can trigger my memory in this way!!


Ann said...

My Wai Po said when she arrived in Sibu, she was very happy. there was plenty of wood for firewood. back in China, she had to go to the mountains to collect bracken for firewood. They didn't burn well and made a lot of smoke.

She did not say about the snakes. Yuk!!!!

My dad was an interesting art teacher teaching us at home.

Greenspot said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

I believe the fern in your photos are not braken fern. The scientific name for braken is Pteridium sp. and the fern in ur photo is Dicranopteris linearis (paku resak in Malay). But there are studies that link eating braken fern and stomach cancer in Japan and Wales.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Nice of you to write about your Ah Poh..yes many of my Foochow relatives also mentioned about how hard it was for them to get wood for their cooking.

I am sure your UK trained Dad had plenty of ideas for teaching art...I did love my art lessons...and later i helped my children with their art homework...hahahah

Sarawakiana@2 said...

So nice to hear from you again!! I will change the title to Paku Pakis...I am sure you are right!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

May be the person who told me the English name is already too old and made a mistake..I would just call it fern (which we used for filtering latex)....

thanks thanks.

Sunflower said...

Are we talking about paku cai? I love it with belacan, not had it for years! Is it called fiddlehead fern? I only know the one you can buy from tamu.

Korean love fiddlehead fern. They have them dried and I can get them from Korean store. A typical ingredient for bibimbap, Korean stirred rice.

I never know English use bracken for packaging, what if it like?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Sunflower
this is not the paku that you used to get in Brunei. This is a variety that grows well around ponds or rivers.
the paku is darker in colour and perhaps I will take some photos of them growing in the wild. Meeding are the reddish ones which grow along the road from Sg. Tujoh to KB...Well I guess I need to take photos of those too. I have always meant to do justice to meeding with lovely photos... Most people normally take photos of cooked meeding..in nice fancy restaurants....Hence people don't get to see them growing from a small shoot until it is old and stiff and fairly large!!

this is a kind paku...the Ibans only eat the young stalks but not the leaves which are too papery...

Ah Ngao said...

hearsay this paku if taken too often can makes our legs "weak" is it? i loves paku more than midin

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
They do say that Paku is very Leng or cooling...so like Kang Kong we cannot eat too much of it....

I know whenever I eat too much paku I get quite bloated up because of the wind...And people tell me that I must take yoghurt to prevent myself from getting too bloated...old age..??

Paku with lots of belacan and chillies...is heavenly.

Ann said...

I forgot to comment about your relatives using the fern to filter the rubber latex. Their latex must be worst than my Ah Kung's rubber sheet.

My Ah Kung said his was a class three, and he said got a few bubbles which when we were there, helped him to pop. He used a funnel like wire filter, so there were no debri like your uncle.

I remember seeing those bracken when we drove from Sibu to Durin. That's when my Wai Po and mum told us about the use of the bracken for cooking fuel.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
I think my uncle's rubber sheets were grade 2 after he filtered the latex. I remember the Grade 2 because there was a round chop at the side and the smoked rubber sheets were fairly translucent. Grade l was hard to achieve definitely!!

We had four of those rubber mangling machines (two per uncle) and it was fun running them. But being small I was only allowed to step on the rubber as a "bonus".

And I got to push the bicycle from the rear. All the sheets would be flapped across the bar!! Those were good days. Simple food but hard work.

I think I have over romanticized those days at times.

I was once told that a woman gave birth near our "resting" hut where the machines were and she broke a latex cup to cut the umbilical cord...another post may be ....she worked until the baby "dropped" out.

Greenspot said...

Hello Sarawakiana,

It is normal to mistaken onr plant for another which I do sometimes. Braken ferns occur in Sarawak as well. I think locals eat it and called it paku uban, if I am not mistaken.


sarawaklens said...

looks like paku resak

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Greenspot...

I will be looking for paku uban from now on ..thanks..take a few photos and ascertain all the names in both English and Iban/local Malay...then refer to you for their scientific names!! thanks a lot!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...


I am a little confused about paku resam and paku resak...are they the same but referred to different by East and West Malaysians?


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