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Zigzag Bladderwort
Utricularia subulata
zigzag bladderwort
Zigzag bladderwort, photographed at Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park, Stuart, Martin County in May 2015.
Zigzag Bladderwort

Zigzag bladderwort, Utricularia subulata, is a killer, albeit a tiny one. On a good day it might reach an inch off the ground, and without its bright yellow flowers, it's nearly impossible to see. But yes, zigzag bladderwort is a carnivore. It also is the smallest of all yellow-flowered bladderworts and has the greatest geographic range of any members of its genus.

Zigzag bladderwort is a Florida native found in most of the state's 67 counties. The one notable exception in South Florida: Monroe. It's also found throughout the Southeast, up the Atlantic Coast as far north as New York and Massachusetts and into Nova Scotia. All though the concentration of its population is in coastal states, it's also found in a few places in the interior of the continent, including Michigan and Indiana, clustered along Lake Michigan. Zigzag bladderwort grows in California, but there is some disagreement over its native status there.

Zigzag bladderwort is a perennial that grows in wet, sandy areas. We found these plants growing along the banks of a small stream in Atlantic Ridge Preserve. Also growing nearby: pink sundew, another carnivore. The stem is wire-thin, almost like the filament of an incandescent light bulb (remember those?). Up north, the plant forms an underground bud in winter, then flowers in late summer. In between, it's nearly impossible to detect. In South Florida, the plant flowers as early as spring. If conditions are right, zigzag will send out the bright yellow blooms. If not, the plant will send out a closed flower that is cleistogamous, or self-pollinating. The full blooms are chasmogamous, open-pollinating, requiring bugs to pass its genetic material around. Our science lesson for the day.

Zigzag Bladderwort

Although zigzag bladderwort is a carnivore, a bug trying to pollinate it isn't in any danger of being devoured. No, the killer parts are tiny bladders found underground that trap and digest equally tiny organisms found in the soil. Zigzag grows in nutrient-poor soils, so this helps the plant overcome "dietary" deficiencies it might have. Think of it like taking a supplement.

Delray's Institute for Regional Conservation considers zigzag bladderwort rare in South Florida but it is not legally protected by either state or federal governments. It is listed as endangered in Indiana, threatened in Tennessee and Michigan, of special concern in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and rare in Nova Scotia and New York.

Zigzag bladderwort is a member of Lentibulariaceae, the bladderwort family. Another name: tiny bladderwort.

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