U is for Utricularia, a.k.a. Purple Death Flowers #MelaleucaMiscellany


Pretty, aren’t they?

Don’t be fooled – beneath their pretty petals, these flowers hide a deadly secret.

Commonly known as fairy aprons, or more prosaically, as bladderworts, there’s a hint in their name of their dangerous nature.  Utricularia means “little bladder”, and it is this organ, buried beneath the sodden quartzite sands, that gives them their bite.


Figure 1: Detail of insect-eating-apparatus – chilling!

Unlike venus fly traps, whose blood-thirsty capabilities are quite obvious, fairy aprons hide their insect-snaffling apparatus underground, like vicious, carnivorous grapes.

Utricularia bladders possess inward-opening doors or valves, and special hairs which are able to suck the water out of the bladder, maintaining internal pressure.  There are also stiff bristles surrounding the door to the bladder, which act as tripwires for unwary micro-beasts.  Should an unfortunate invertebrate (say, a rotifer) happen to swim by and accidentally brush against one of these bristles, it causes the door to open, sucking the tiny beast to its death in a swift, liquid swirl. Then the door closes, the trap resets, and all is still, until the bladderwort feeds again, bwahahahaa!

Eric and Lisa, the first OBP volunteers we met, suggested that “fairy aprons”, as a name does not adequately describe the micro-beast perspective of these sneaky plant carnivores.  They suggested that a more appropriate moniker might be “purple death flower”.  I am calling them that from now on.

Poet Ivy Alvarez has written a poem on fairy aprons, and their carnivorous cousins the sundew, which I quite like – read them here.


Utricularia dichotoma, a.k.a. the Purple Death Flower.


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