Ok, so I’m strange. I fully admit this and embrace it as part of who I am. Today I’m sharing one of my strangeness with all of you, I have a bit of an obsession with carnivorous plants. I just find them extremely fascinating. So, of course, when my husband and I ran across a pond full of Bladderwort on a recent hike, I went bonkers.
Floating bladderwort, or Utricularia inflata, is a Florida native plant that extends through much of the Southeast region of the United States. It’s both aquatic and carnivorous and can be found in (usually) deep freshwater habitats that have a low pH and very few nutrients (which is why the plant evolved to be carnivorous in the first place). It’s a member of the Lentibulariaceae (Bladderwort) family and the flowers of the plants in this family look very similar to the flowers in the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, they are bilaterally symmetrical and somewhat resemble lips. This is because Lentibulariaceae and Lamiaceae are both members of the Lamiales order, so they are fairly closely related.
Bladderwort does not have roots. Instead, it has specialized leaves that both keep it afloat and provide extra nutrients. The underwater leaves are home to the “bladders” that give these plants their common name. These bladders are the “trap” that collects the animals this plant preys upon, which are mainly protozoa, microscopic crustaceans, and tiny fish (often that have just hatched). When these creatures get close enough to the bladders to brush up against the hairs, this triggers the bladder to open, creating a vacuum and sucking the creature inside where it will be digested to provide the extra nutrients the plant needs to survive.
The species that we ran across (Utricularia inflata) is one of many species in Florida. However, to my knowledge (please correct me if I’m wrong), it is the only one with the wheel-like floating leaves that grows in North America. While it is native to the Southeast, it has been introduced in Washington state and upstate New York, where it has become a problematic invasive.
There are around 200 species that grow world-wide, 20 of which grow here in North America. Each region has specific species that are used for slightly different purposes in traditional medicines. The Ayurvedic traditions use Utricularia reticulata, the Traditional Chinese Medicine system uses Utricularia bifida, and the Gwich’in tribe of North America uses Utricularia vulgaris. While all of these traditional systems use the various Bladderworts for kidney infections and wound care, each tradition has specific other uses for their Utricularia species. This isn’t to say that all Bladderworts can’t be used interchangeably, but that there isn’t much research or data collected to support this idea.
Check out a video I posted recently about this fascinating plant!
Common Names- Bladderwort, Floating Bladderwort, Swollen Bladderwort
Scientific Name- Utricularia inflata
Summary of Actions- Astringent, diuretic, and vulnerary
Parts Used- Whole plant
Edibility- A tea is often made with dry or fresh leaves and often consumed for the rich mineral content.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Utricularia bifida is used in a common TCM formula for hemorrhoids. The other herbs in this formula include Elephantopus scaber (Elephant’s Foot) and Sonchus oleraceus (Common Sowthistle). This mixture is used to relieve and eliminate swelling pain, stabbing pain and burning pain of hemorrhoids caused by bacterial infection and perianal inflammation, improve and eliminate variant tissue, eliminate thrombus, soften hemorrhoids, promote regeneration of active cells, restore perianal damaged aging cells, improve elasticity of rectal vein wall and muscle tissue, improve compressive stimulation resistance, eliminate rectal blood stasis root source, restore functions of a perianal system and prevent recurrence of hemorrhoids.
Ayurveda- Utricularia reticulata is used in Ayurvedic traditions. The whole plant is used for eye disease, snake bites, and ulcers.
Native American Traditional Uses- The Gwich’in tribe (one of the most northerly dwelling tribes in the North American continent) use Utricularia vulgaris to treat kidney and bladder infections. It is often used in the same way as Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) for bladder issues.
Urinary Tract and Kidneys- Bladderwort is astringent and has soothing properties that help reduce inflammation which makes it great to treat kidney and bladder infections. It also helps treat and prevent kidney stones.
Gallbladder- This herb helps to stimulate bile production and excretion helping to improve digestion. It also helps to treat and prevent gall stones.
Burns and Wound Care- The soothing and astringent properties of this plant make it a great choice for wound and burn care. You can use the fresh specialized leaves (the parts that are under water) as a poultice on any wound or burn and it will help prevent infection, soothe pain/burning sensations, and help to speed healing.
Weight Loss- Bladderwort helps reduce water retention which can help shed some weight. It also helps to simulate bile production and excretion which can help improve digestion which may also help some people to lose a bit of weight. Though this herb is not a “miracle weight loss herb.”
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- Since not a lot of information exists on this plant, use caution and talk to your doctor or herbalist before adding it to your routine. Do not take this if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
I only included a basic introduction to this fascinating carnivorous plant. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates and more adventures in nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on TeeSpring, check it out! If you like what you see and would like to support this content, feel free to become a Patron for as little as $1 a month!
Amazing facts of Bladderwort: Health Benefits Times: https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/bladderwort/
Bladderwort: GTC Department of Cultural Heritage: https://www.gwichin.ca/plants/bladderwort
Bladderwort: Medicinal Herbs: http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/u/utricularia-vulgaris=bladderwort.php
Bladderworts: Medicinal Plants Archive: https://www.medicinalplantsarchive.us/pitcher-plants-2/bladderworts.html
Bladderwort: The Rx List: https://www.rxlist.com/bladderwort/supplements.htm
Bladderwort: WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-317/bladderwort
Floating Bladderwort - Utricularia inflata: Native Florida Wildflowers: http://hawthornhillwildflowers.blogspot.com/2020/01/floating-bladderwort-utricularia-inflata.html
Florida’s Aquatic Carnivorous Plants – Yes, Aquatic!: UF Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants: https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/nat/2016/06/03/floridas-aquatic-carnivorous-plants-yes-aquatic/
Swollen Bladderwort: An Exotic Aquatic Plant: Department of Conservation and Recreation, Massachusetts: https://www.mass.gov/doc/swollen-bladderwort-0/download
Swollen Bladderwort: Washington State Department of Ecology: https://depts.washington.edu/oldenlab/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Ultricularia-inflata_Scholl_2007R.pdf
The Floating Bladderwort: In Defense of Plants: https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2019/2/24/the-radial-bladderwort
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE PREPARATION FOR TREATING HAEMORRHOIDS: WIPO IP Portal: https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/es/detail.jsf;jsessionid=2F5617F8666913CE082CACDE8D715892.wapp1nC?docId=CN177429855&_cid=P12-K6GK5M-42677-41
Utricularia inflata: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=utin
Utricularia reticulata: Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants of Sri Lanka: http://www.instituteofayurveda.org/plants/plants_detail.php?i=757
Utricularia species: UF Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants: https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/utricularia-species/
Utricularia vulgaris: Plants for a Future: https://pfaf.org/USER/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Utricularia+vulgaris
Utricularia vulgaris: Practical Plants: https://practicalplants.org/wiki/Utricularia_vulgaris
Utricularia vulgaris: University of Ioannina School of Health Sciences: http://mediplantepirus.med.uoi.gr/pharmacology_en/plant_details.php?id=232