Utricularia, the bladderworts, are carnivorous plants which capture their prey through their bladder traps by sucking them in through a trap door, and seizing them in a pod to digest and consume their hapless victims. Some of these plants are aquatic, others are terrestrial, though all have traps that depend on being submerged in water to operate. Here, floating in the water of a sunny pond, is the Common Bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza). In this first photograph, we have a close look at the structure of this plant and its traps, bringing us into its aquatic world. For the second photograph, the traps of the Eastern Purple Bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea) are visible floating just beneath the water’s surface. It can be seen how the traps are arranged on branching filaments, emanating from radial whorls along the main stem-like stolon. The third photograph, is of a Green Frog (Rana clamitans) sitting in the suspended muck of a slurry of peat and water, at the edge of a floating Sphagnum bog along a tributary to the Peconic River.
Among the brush at the edge of another nearby pond, a Female American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), is caught by the Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). A gruesome sight to witness, as the snake slowly drew the still living frog deeper into its mouth, the victim’s panicked cries of fear and desperation becoming fainter as it began to disappear, sliding further down into the serpent’s gullet until it was little more than a silent lump deep in the snake’s belly. This theatric drama of life and death, played itself out mere steps from a boat launch used for recreational fishing by people who wish to enjoy the peaceful tranquility of this pond. It is a harsh reminder of how the laws of nature transpire, whereas an insect will be eaten by the frog, the frog will be eaten by the snake, and the snake will be eaten by the heron. All creatures great and small, are a part of this continuous cycle of life and death. Nature in all its glory, though it may be beautiful, can also seem ruthless in its lack of compassion. It is not from any cruel intention of brutality, but is simply the unforgiving competition of survival of the fittest, to advance life to ever greater complexities, by adapting to overcome the most insurmountable challenges.
Bladderworts, these strange carnivorous plants produce beautiful little flowers and sprout out stem-like stolons with numerous tiny vacuum traps under water, or underground, to capture and consume their minute prey. Often their flowers are the best way to identify these curious plants, and there are 12 species that are found on Long Island. Of those 12 species, 10 have yellow flowers, and 2 have purple flowers.
The first photograph, is of the purple flowers of the Eastern Purple Bladderwort, Utricularia purpurea. This aquatic plant is found freely floating in the water of a number of ponds in the pine barrens of Long Island, with their masses of traps arranged as branching whorls along their long stolons. In the second and third photographs, we see the flower of the Lavender Bladderwort, Utricularia resupinata, and the fourth photo shows its ripening fruit. This plant grows affixed to the soil and sends its traps underground, with only its flower visible to the world above. Mostly growing in sandy or somewhat mucky substrates, it sometimes goes for long periods of time without flowering. On Long Island, the plant is only known from two coastal plains ponds, and it seems to flower most when the water levels become low, in shallow water or very wet soil. Though the flowers may be very small, they are magnificent in their delicate beauty.
For the fifth photograph, we have the yellow flowers of the Horned Bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta. Most of the locations where this plant grows on Long Island, tends to be ponds that are isolated and go through periods of drying out, or brimming full with rain water, depending on the year. Some years will find a pond dried of its surface water, but where the soil still remains saturated. When this occurs, the pond basin completely fills with an explosion of growth of Utricularia cornuta. Appearing as a pleasant summer meadow bathed in the sunlight, a low field of little yellow flowers, that gently trembles with the wind of a passing breeze.
A detailed look at a few of the smaller carnivorous plants that grow naturally in the pine barrens of Long Island, NY. The first two photographs are trap details of the roundleaf sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, growing in a Sphagnum bog which floats on the slow-moving outskirts of a river. It is fascinating how the tentacles on the trap, can be seen bringing the captured prey into the center of the leaf for digestion. Bladderworts can have some tiny flowers, but also quite beautiful, when one peers into their world and views them up close. Here we see three different species of them, all growing on the sandy shore habitat of a coastal plains pond. Their carnivorous traps are hidden underground, consuming the minute creatures that swim through the saturated soil. The species are, (in order) Utricularia cornuta, U. resupinata and U. gibba. From the Summer, 2013 season.
12 species of the carnivorous plants known as bladderworts, grow native on Long Island, NY. In the first two photographs, we see the horned bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta, growing in the shallow waters along the sandy shore habitat of a coastal plains pond. The first photograph is of its elegant yellow flower, and the second shows the details of the plant that grow underground, where its miniature traps consume its miniscule prey. The other three photographs are of the striped bladderwort, Utricularia striata, in a shallow vernal pond. The yellow flower and foxtail-like growth habit of the plant are evident in the first photograph, and the second has the detail of the trap structures which float beneath the surface of the water. In the third photo, we see the same traps that have caught their prey, the purple color being the digestive enzymes secreted by the plant. These traps are observed to flatten, as they compress and crush their victims, while absorbing the nutrients that they derive from their captives.