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The Bladderwort Carnivorous Plant (How it Keeps Your Backyard Pond Clean)

A close look at a blooming carnivorous bladderwort.

If you're having problems with overwhelming bacteria or overpopulation in your backyard pond, then the carnivorous bladderwort can help you with that.

The world of carnivorous plants goes so far beyond the Venus Fly Trap. There are so many ways in which these remarkable plants actually trap their food, and some of them are so unique that they’ve earned themselves their own category of trapping method.

5 Types of Carnivorous Plants and How They Trap briefly explains all of these different trapping methods: pitfall traps, flypaper traps, lobster traps, snap traps. The Bladderwort is the one carnivorous plant that uses the method of suction trapping. Today we’re going to learn how exactly that occurs, and why it’s good for your backyard pond.

Related: Pitfall Trap | Flypaper Trap | Snap TrapCorkscrew Plants

Introducing the Bladderwort

Utricularia Macrorhiza

The Bladderwort is a very unique carnivorous plant and exists alone in its family. It is the only carnivorous plant that uses a suction trap method, and it’s so bizarre it’ll make you question if it’s from planet earth. It is said to be the fastest-acting carnivorous plant, with a trap door that closes in 1/35th of a second!

Bladderworts exist aquatically and resemble a floating weed. They don’t possess a root system and tend to float freely in their environments. Oddly enough, the main body of the plant looks like a root system itself, with only one single flower rising above the surface of the water. The “roots” or stems more like it are riddled with small flexible sacs. These sacs are called bladders, and this is where suction trapping and digestion occur.

A close look at the leaf of a bladderwort.

The bladder functions in a very odd way for a plant. The sacs have a flexible door that remains closed, leaving an air pocket in the bladder (underneath the water). On the outer edges of the sac exist sensitive hairs, that once bristled, will trigger the opening of the valve. The low pressure within the bladder sucks in whatever is directly in front of the opening, including sand, water, and the unlucky prey.

Most other carnivorous plants tend to live in low nutrient environments, but that is not the case for the Bladderwort. The reason why carnivorous plants don’t possess a root system is that they don’t obtain any nutrients from the water or soil they live in. And the same goes for the Bladderwort, hence why it is able to free float around, literally bumping into its next meal.

A closer look at the leaf of a bladderwort.

What They Eat

Bladderwort bladders are rather tiny, and so their diet only consists of water fleas, aquatic worms, larvae, small water invertebrates, and protozoans (water-dwelling single-cell microorganisms).

A close look at the trap of a bladderwort.

Why They’re Awesome

Although they can sometimes interfere with other aquatic plants, their main function is keeping a balanced ecosystem in bodies of water. They exist in freshwater, and their presence maintains the levels of larvae, bacteria, and other living things that may be dangerous to this sensitive ecosystem.

Introducing Bladderwort to your home water feature can act as a natural filtration system and keep the water healthy.

Where they Exist

Many carnivorous plants are on the critically endangered list, so it’s really wonderful to learn when there are some that are abundant. Bladderworts are so successful that they are actually considered as invasive species. Right now they can be found in 50 states, and are continuing to spread.

A hand holding a bladderwort.

They like to live in lakes, streams, and waterlogged soil — anywhere that is always wet. There’s a good chance you can find a Bladderwort in your own backyard pond, and there are tons of people out there who are actually growing their own Bladderwort plants!

Fun Facts About the Bladderwort

  • Bladderwort flowers are bisexual
  • they occur in 50 states
  • other aquatic creatures use their stems as shelter to lay their eggs (aw)
  • they are an invasive species
  • their trap door closes in 1/35th of a second, making them the quickest acting carnivorous plant trap

A cluster of bladderwort at a pond.

FAQ

How do you get rid of Bladderwort?

Bladderwort is an invasive species, and can potentially interfere with other aquatic plants in your backyard pond or lake or what have you. Agrilife Extension has a successful way to control Bladderwort invasions.

Who discovered the Bladderwort?

A man named Ferdinand Cohn did an experiment in 1875 by placing waterfleas in an aquatic tank and observing the Bladderwort sucking them into its bladders.

Why are Bladderworts important?

Although Bladderworts can be a bit overbearing themselves, they are wonderful at keeping lakes and streams clean and free of overwhelming bacteria. It maintains larvae populations to prevent other invasive species from thriving.

Can I have Bladderwort as a house plant?

Absolutely, but just remember that it is an aquatic plant and has a rather specific meal plan.

How does a Bladderwort reproduce?

They use a really interesting method called rhizome fragmentation. Pieces of the stem break off and are able to grow into entirely new plants.

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