Horned Bladderwort

Utricularia cornuta

horned bladderwort

Horned bladderwort, photographed at Acreage Pines Natural Area, Loxahatchee, Palm Beach County, in July 2016.

Horned bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta, is a killer plant. It uses its unique hornlike structure on its flower as a dagger, striking its prey repeatedly until it falls dead. The victim could be a frog, a dragonfly or even a small bird.

OK, we made most of that up. But horned bladderwort, like all bladderworts, is a carnivorous plant that makes its living trapping and killing animals, albeit tiny animals. And some equally tiny plants.

The distinctive horn, as you might expect, has nothing to do with the way it kills. Like others of its kind, the horned bladderwort has small, ball-like structures on its leaves — bladders, if you will — that suck in passing organisms who signal their presence by disturbing trigger hairs that quickly open and shut a doorlike structure. With apologies to the Eagles, once animals check in, they never check out, just like the Hotel California. The entrance works one way only. The plant doesn't directly kill the creature; it just stays inside the bladder until it dies and decomposes into a puddle of nutrients that the plant can take in. Less dramatic than our little bit of fiction, but just as deadly.

Horned bladderwort and other of its kind tend to live in water that has few nutrients for plants to take in. The bladders solve the problem by allowing the plant to make its own nutrients.

A few words about bladderworts generally: there are about 200 species of bladderworts worldwide. Most have yellow flowers, a few purple or violet. All bladderworts are found in wetlands, most are aquatic.

Horned bladderwort has a yellow flower with a downward pointing "horn" at the base. It grows in wetlands, on the margins of marshes, lakes and ponds. But it is one of the few bladderworts that can grow on land as well as in water.

They are native to the Sunshine State and found in most counties, but the Institute for Regional Conservation considers horned bladderwort rare in South Florida. The state does not list the species as threatened or endangered, however.

Horned bladderwort is native to most of eastern and central United States and Canada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers Washington state part of the plant's native range, but some considered it an introduced plant there. It's listed as endangered in Ohio and Illinois, threatened in Indiana and of special concern in Tennessee.

Horned bladderwort is a perennial, blooms in the spring and summer months and is pretty much inconspicuous whenever the flowers aren't present. The scientific name for the bladderwort family is Lentibulariaceae.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.