Bladderwort – Utricularia
The Bladderwort, or Utricularia, is a highly evolved acquatic carnivorous plant. Honestly, they’re probably one of the most highly evolved species of plants, period. They photosynthesize and produce flowers – and that’s about where the similarities between Bladderworts and plants, in general, end. They hold no roots, stems or leaves. Oh yah, and did I mention that they use miniature trap doors attached to digestive-enzyme-secreting bladders to snag and digest unsuspecting aquatic and semi-aquatic prey? Yah, they’re funky. But really, it’s in the best possible way.
With more than 228 species of Bladderworts, they’re also the largest genus of carnivorous plants. With so many species, you’d rightly expect them to be the most geographically widespread carnivorous plant, growing on almost every continent save for frozen Arctic regions and oceanic islands (they’re freshwater aquatic plants). Species are highly adaptable, surviving drought by morphing into underground rice-sized tubers, and freezes by morphing into dormant, hairy buds called turrions. You’ll find them nestled within other plants, like bromeliads, frozen Alaskan swamps, seasonally wet Australian deserts, in fast-moving African waters, in mossy South American trees, and acidic ponds of Florida. There’s nary an environment Bladderworts can’t conquer.
Biology of a Bladderwort
Bladderwort traps are one of the most highly-evolved and unique mechanisms in the plant kingdom. At their most basic, they are floating bladder-like trap-doors, about the size of a pinhead in most species (can get as large as 1/4 inch). You’ll find hundreds or thousands of them scattered across the underwater length of Utricularia and they hunt aquatic prey, striking with lighting-fast reflexes in ten-thousandths of one second. Here are the fascinating details:
Utricularia biology & requirements
While all Bladderworts employ similar trapping mechanisms, there are around 228 different known species with varied growing conditions across the board. There are terrestrial, aquatic, seasonal, and tropical epiphytic Utricularia. We’ll highlight the main differences, below.
Given the diminutive size of their traps and stolons, Utricularia flowers are the showiest and most beautiful part of the plant – rivaling the complexity and showmanship of many orchids. The flowers range in size – with a diameter as large as a 2 inches to as small as 1/4 inch. Color is also a fun Bladderwort flower variable spanning the range of red, yellow, violet, purple, pink, and white – and sometimes including more than one!
Where to find Bladderworts in the wild
As mentioned earlier, Utricularia are the most geographically widespread carnivorous plant, growing on almost every continent save for frozen Arctic regions and oceanic islands. You’ll find them in frozen Alaskan swamps, seasonally wet Australian deserts, in fast-moving African waters, in mossy South American trees, acidic ponds of Florida, and beyond.