Utricularia – A plant that sucks!

Utricularia is a genus of carnivorous plant, more commonly called Bladderworts. These plants are also known as Fairy Aprons, and when you see the flowers, it’s easy to understand why. Australia has around 60 species of Bladderworts, with approximately nine found in the South East of South Australia and western Victoria region.

These plants grow in seasonal herbaceous wetlands, swamps, or waterlogged ground, and they flower in summer. The reason they are called bladderworts is because attached to the underwater stems (root-like structures) is a series of “bladders”. The bladders have hair-like triggers on a sort of trap door, and when the movement of passing organisms is felt, the trap door opens sucking in the prey item with the in-rush of water, and the door closes rapidly behind it. This all happens within the blink of an eye! The meal is then digested over time.

Our largest flowering bladderwort is Utricularia beaugleholei (endangered in SA), followed by U. barkeri, with U. tenella being one of the smaller flowers that you will come across. Utricularlia tenella has tiny pink flowers, whilst the other two have purple flowers with yellow ridges. I am yet to see the yellow flower of U. australis, but have seen the plants many times. They do not flower as profusely as the others.

So if you’re visiting a wetland soon, look for the Bladderworts, as they are in flower now. But be careful you don’t get sucked in!

Sheryl Holliday