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Horned Bladderwort
horned bladderwort
Horned bladderwort, photographed at Grassy Waters Preserve, north side, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, in May 2014.
horned bladderwort

Horned bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta, is a killer plant. It uses it's 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 tiny structures on its leaves — bladders, if you will — that suck in passing organisms who signal their presence by disturbing trigger hairs. Once inside the bladder, the animals stay there. 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.

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.

horned bladderwort

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 carnivorous lifestyle is a way for the plant to survive in nutrient-poor soils. The scientific name for the bladderwort family is Lentibulariaceae.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Horned Bladderwort
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
  Flora of North America     Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.