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Greater Bladderwort - Utricularia vulgaris
Other Names:  Utricularia macrorhiza

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:
C-value: 5

External Links

State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Changed from SNR to S4 (the rank given to U. macrorhiza).
General Description
PLANTS: Perennial aquatic herbs with submerged stems, bladders, and overwintering buds. This species had course stems. Plants are rootless. Bladders, which trap small aquatic animals for the plant's nourishment, are borne on leaf segments.

LEAVES: The leaves are 20-50 mm long, pinnately divided, and very crowded. The segments are entire and more or less rounded. Source: Lesica et al. 2012; Hitchcock and Cronquist 2018.

INFLORESCENCE: An erect, few flowered bracteate raceme. 5 to 12 flowers are emergent, yellow, and snapdragon-like. Source. Lesica et al. 2012.

The specific epithet vulgaris is the Latin word for common. This species is in fact, very widespread throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Utricularia is derived from the Latin utriculus which translates to wineskin or leather bottle referring to the sac-like bladders of the genus (Poppinga et al. 2016).

Flowering June through September (Rice 2012, Rundquist 1973).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Montana has four Utricularia species. They are all aquatic, submerged, rootless herbs with small bladder-like traps borne on branches or leaves. All species have emergent, snapdragon-like flowers borne on a scape. All have many, globose overwintering buds called turions.

Greater BladderwortUtricularia vulgaris, native and desirable
*Size: Scape emerges 10-40 cm from the water.
*Bladders: 2-5 mm long and only attached to leaf segments.
*Bladder Glands: Long arm-pair is parallel or diverges slightly. Short arm-pair diverges by 90–180 degrees (Rice 2012).
*Leaves: Pinnately divided and crowded. 20-50 mm long, entire and more or less round.
*Buds: 15-25 mm long.
*Flowers: More than 5 yellow flowers in the inflorescence. Each is 10-18 mm long with a 5-8 mm long spur.
*Fruit: Borne on curved pedicels when mature.

Lesser BladderwortUtricularia minor, native and desirable
*Size: Scape emerges 5-10 cm from the water.
*Bladders: 1-3 mm long and occur only on leafy stems.
*Bladder Glands: Long arm-pair diverging slightly. Short arm-pair diverging by 270–300 degrees (so all 4 arms oriented in the same direction) (Rice 2012).
*Leaves: 2-8 mm long and palmately divided. Segments are flat with entire margins.
*Buds: 2-9 mm long.
*Flowers: 2-5 yellow flowers in an inflorescence. Each is 5-10 mm long with a 2 mm long spur.
*Fruit: Borne on curved pedicels when mature.

Flatleaf BladderwortUtricularia intermedia, native, SOC
*Size: Scape emerges 8-25 cm from the water.
*Bladders: 3-5 mm long and borne on separate leafless branches.
*Bladder Glands: Both arm-pairs generally diverge by 0–30 degrees (Rice 2012).
*Leaves: 5-20 mm long, palmately divided. Segments are flat with entire to obscurely serrate margins.
*Buds: 6-15 mm long.
*Flowers: 1-4 yellow flowers in the inflorescence. Each is 10-15 mm long with a 5-9 mm long spur.
*Fruit: Borne on erect pedicels when mature.

Northern BladderwortUtricularia ochroleuca, native, SOC
*Size: Scape emerges up to 15 cm from the water
*Bladders: Most are borne on leafless stems but a few can often be found on leafy shoots.
*Bladder Glands: long arm-pair diverging by 20–45°, short arm-pair diverging by 40–160 degrees (Rice 2012)
*Leaves: 5-15 mm long and palmately divided. Terminal leaf segments with bristle tips and toothed margins.
*Buds: 2-3 mm and bristly
*Flowers: Inflorescence usually 3-5 flowered. Each is 8-11 mm long with a 10-15 mm long spur.
*Fruit: Borne on curved pedicels when mature.

Range Comments
Circumboreal south to most of U.S. (Lesica 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 281

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)


All Bladderwort species are carnivorous plants that use small bladder-like traps to capture and digest prey. Prey includes aquatic insect larvae, water mites, nematodes, gastropods, small tadpoles, crustaceans, diatoms, and other aquatic microorganisms (Mette et al. 2000). Each bladder has a valve that opens like a trap door when the surrounding trigger hairs are brushed (Poppinga et al. 2016). When the valve opens, a low pressure gradient causes water to flow quickly inside pulling in the organism that triggered the hairs (Singh et al. 2011). Glands found on the inside of the traps both digest prey through enzyme excretion, and absorb the nutrients after digestion (Poppinga et al. 2016).

While Utricularia are considered “carnivorous” plants, their nutrient acquisition is much more complicated than carnivory alone. In fact, algae have been observed inside bladders more often than anything else (Plachno et al. 2012). This has caused a close and complex relationship to develop between Utricularia species and algae. Individuals trap and digest algae for nutrients, and also host algae and other microorganisms that live within traps, creating an elaborate food-web community (Peroutka et al. 2008; Ellwood et al. 2019). Fungi, bacteria, and protozoa are cultivated within traps and help to break down algae into a state that can be digested by the bladderwort (Sirová et al. 2018).

According to a study by Ulanowicz (1995), Utricularia species use a positive feedback loop in order to survive in an oligotrophic environment in which other aquatic plant species would be nutrient stressed. By acting as a physical structure for periphyton to grow on, they attract the organisms that graze on periphyton which they will then feed upon (Ulanowicz 1995).

In addition to preying on a wide variety of other organisms, bladderworts photosynthesize in order to obtain energy. Adamec (2005) showed that the photosynthetic rate of leaves was much higher than that of bladders while respiration of bladders was much higher than that of the leaves. This implies that while bladders obtain essential nitrogen and phosphorous from digesting prey, function of these structures necessitates high metabolic costs (Adamec 2005).

Reproductive Characteristics
FLOWERS [Lesica et al. 2012]
Emergent flowers have an inconspicuous, two-lobed calyx and a bright yellow, two-lipped corolla. The corolla lip usually 1-2 cm long. Underneath, it has a 5-8 mm long cylindrical spur, which is hooked near the tip. The upper corolla lip is shorter than the lower lip.

The fruit are circumscissile, globose capsules containing 4-6 sided, winged seeds (Jepson 2019).

LIFE CYCLE [Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program 2009]
U. vulgaris is a perennial species. Flowers are produced in mid-summer followed by the development of fruits. Winter buds, or turions, form toward the end of the growing season on the submerged stems. During winter, plants sink and decay in the sediment of fens leaving only the living buds. In the spring, buds rise to the surface and begin new growth.

As nutrient levels rise in oligotrophic habitats, periphyton and algae growth will begin to choke-out Utricularia plants, at which point they no longer benefit from attracting algae (Ulanowicz 1994). In this situation, algae-suppressive treatments are harmful to bladderworts that are caught amongst the algae. Introducing Daphnia and tadpoles is the only known method of suppressing algae that does not harm Utricularia. Source: Carnivorous Plant Resource.

Threats or Limiting Factors
While a certain level of nutrients can attract a beneficial amount of algae and periphyton, very high nutrient levels resulting in unchecked growth of algae can displace Utricularia populations (Ulanowicz 1995).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Adamec, L. 2005. Respiration and Photosynthesis of Bladders and Leaves of Aquatic Utricularia Species. Plant Biology 8: 765-769.
    • Barry A. Rice. 2012. Utricularia, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=10569, accessed on 7 November 2019
    • Ellwood, N.T.W., Congestri, R., and Ceschin, S. 2019. The role of phytoplankton in the diet of the bladderwort Utricularia australis R.Br. (Lentibulariaceae). Freshwater Biology 64: 233– 243.
    • Giblin, David E., Ben S. Legler, Peter F. Zika, and Richard G. Olmstead (editors). 2018. Flora of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Manual. Second Edition. University of Washington Press in Association with Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle, Washington. 882 pp.
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
    • Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. 2009. Bladderworts. Maine's Interactive Field Guide to Aquatic Invaders (and Their Native Look Alikes).
    • Mette, N., N. Wilbert, and W. Barthlott. 2000. Food Composition of Aquatic Bladderworts (Utricularia, Lentibulariaceae) in Various Habitats. Beitr. Biol. Pflanzen 72: 1-13.
    • Peroutka, M., W. Adlassnig, M. Volgger, T. Lendl, W. Url, and I. Lichtscheidl. 2008. Utricularia: a vegetarian carnivorous plant? Plant Ecology 199: 153.
    • Plachno B., Lukaszek M., Wolowski K., Adamec L., and Stolarczyk P. 2012. Aging of Utricularia traps and variability of microorganisms associated with that micro-habitat. Aquat Bot. 97:44–48.
    • Poppinga, S., C. Weisskopf, A.S.Westermeier, T. Masselter, and T. Speck. 2016. Fastest predators in the plant kingdom: functional morphology and biomechanics of suction traps found in the largest genus of carnivorous plants. AoB PLANTS 8: 140.
    • Rundquist, V.M. 1973. Avian ecology on stock ponds in two vegetational types in north-central Montana. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 112 p.
    • Singh, A.K., Prabhakar, S., and Sane, S.P. 2011. The biomechanics of fast prey capture in aquatic bladderworts. Biology Letters 7(4), 547–550
    • Sirova, D., J. Barta, K. Simek, T. Posch, J. Pech, J. Stone, J. Borovec, L. Adamec, and J. Vrba. 2018. Hunters or farmers? Microbiome characteristics help elucidate the diet composition in an aquatic carnivorous plant. Microbiome 6: 225.
    • Ulanowicz, R.E. 1995. Utricularia's secret: the advantage of positive feedback in oligotrophic environments. Ecological Modelling 79: 49-57.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Garrett, P.A. 1983. Relationships between benthic communities, land use, chemical dynamics, and trophic state in Georgetown Lake. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 136 p.
    • Horpestad, A.A. 1969. Factors affecting the distribution and abundance of aquatic macrophytes in parts of the Madison, Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 88 p.
    • Jones, W. W. 1901. Preliminary flora of Gallatin County. M.S. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State College. 78 pp.
    • Koller-Peroutka, M., T. Lendl, M. Watzka, and W. Adlassnig. 2015. Capture of algae promotes growth and propagation in aquatic Utricularia. Annals of Botany 115(2): 227–236.
    • Neid, S.L. (2006, May 15). Utricularia minor L. (lesser bladderwort): a technical conservation assessment. [Online]. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. Available: utriculariaminor.pdf [2019, November 7].
    • Rasmussen, S.M. 1968. Composition and structure of macrophyte vegetation of the Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park as related to physical and chemical factors. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 44 p.
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Greater Bladderwort — Utricularia vulgaris.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from