Friday, July 30, 2010

Mysterious Bladderwort - SOLVED

To recap: yesterday evening I found this lovely pale pink flower blooming along the shore of Rich Lake. I thought it was a bladderwort, but it doesn't match anything in my field guide.

Okay - I've already established that I am quick to jump to conclusions. But this time I have been careful to look for as many details as I could, looked up all known bladderwort species in NYS, as well as any pink/purple bladderworts found worldwide, or any other type of plant that might even remotely look like this (maybe it isn't even a bladderwort).

The first thing I did this morning was to return to the shoreline to verify that the plant is indeed a bladderwort. How? But uprooting a specimen and looking for bladders.

Voila! There they were. So, I've established that this is a bladderwort.
Looking through my field guide (and on-line), I see that most bladderworts are yellow. There is a purple bladderwort found in NY, but based on the illustrations in the field guide and the photographs I've seen on-line, it does not have the spur this one sports, and the flower shape is different.
What can this be? Is it a mutant? Is it a new species (Utricularia rathboneii)?

I'm counting on my flower friends (uh, that'd be you, Jackie) to have what is likely to be a simple explanation. The odds are this is something quite common and I've simply gotten hung up on some little detail, or missed something obvious and just jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Some of these are right in the water, while others are upshore just a bit (would be in the water if we got a little more rain).

Rich Lake is nearly neutral in pH, with a lot of limestone bedrock exposed. There are sundews, pipewort and water lobelia growing in the same area, with narrow-leaved gentians just inland a few feet.

I eagerly await input.

Update: As I suspected, my friend Jackie knew what it was. This is lavender, or reversed, or supine bladderwort (Utricularia resupinata). In the NYS Revised Checklist of Plants it is only listed as "bladderwort," so I forgive myself for overlooking the listing. This member of the bladderwort clan is found throughout the northeast and up into Canada, although in many of our surrounding states its status is iffy (Endangered: CT, ME, MD, NJ; Threatened: MA, VT; Special Concern: RI, TN; Extirpated: IN, PA). So, I'm glad to have seen it!

For those wondering, bladderworts are carnivorous plants. Those little bladders are the food-acquisition units. They lie there flat, waiting for a prey item to trigger a little hair that makes the bladders snap open, the resulting vacuum sucking in the surrounding water and any critters in it. (Think of what would happen if you were in outer space and your space vehicle developed a hole: everything would be sucked out into space instantaneously.) Digestive enzymes and bacteria go to work on the food, digesting it in 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the amout of prey captured. When the process is done, special cells extract the resulting soup into the stem of the plant, thus reestablishing the vacuum within the bladder and resetting the trap. Pretty nifty system.


  1. I think your bladderwort is Utricularia resupinata, or Lavender Bladderwort. Note how the flowers appear to be tilted backwards. You can find photos on the web if you type in the Latin name and search. But you were mighty lucky to find this pretty flower, since the USDA shows it as a rare plant in many surrounding states, although it is not listed as such in NY. But I've never seen it. Nice find, and nice photos.

  2. I knew you'd know it! Thanks, Jackie! And no wonder I couldn't find it - it's not listed in Newcomb's and in the NYS Revised Checklist of Plants the common name is simply "bladderwort" - you'd think that because the color is unusual that they'd use it in the common name, eh?