Friday, 22 January 2010

Bladderworts transform into Fairy Aprons




It's a busy time on the blog. You'd think January would be a quiet time. Either because few plants flower in mid-summer or I'd have better things to do on a sunny evening.

But botany calls. Our #1 carnivorous plant enthusiast on staff, Gareth Hambridge, sent me these two pictures of bladderworts (Utricularia) from the billabong outside our Tropical Centre at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens.

If you live locally, have a peek amongst the cumbungi (or Typha) in this billabong. Alternatively, visit one of Sydneys' local national parks and look for tiny purple flowers in moist seepage areas or near creeks.

Bladderworts are also called Fairy Aprons. In flower, you can see why. The two illustrated here are a local species with purple flowers, Utricularia dichotoma, and one from further north with yellow flowers, Utricularia aurea.

South America has more of the 220 or so species of bladderwort than anywhere else in the world, but Australia comes in a close second with 57 species, 40 of them only growing here.

The 'bladder' of the alternate common name is small and submerged under water or damp soil. It has a hair-triggered door that responses within 1/30th of a second to suck in any passing insect.

I have a large, broad-leaved South American species growing at home but our locals ones mostly have small or insignificant leaves. (The bladders are actually produced on a kind of root-like stem and leaf system.)

So enjoy yet another summer-flowering treat. I have a couple more things to get off my chest over the next few days but then, perhaps, the plant and plant-science world might rest?

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