Carnivorous Plants for Beginners: Bladderworts! (Utricularia)

I love Utricularia because they literally make my head explode every time I think about them. And by literally, I mean figuratively.

They have the most complex trapping mechanism out of all carnivorous plants, possibly the most complex structure in the plant kingdom. But you can’t see them! They’re super tiny and under the soil! You can’t watch the carnivory in action unless you look up videos online.

So they hide their carnivorous parts, then grow tiny, amazing flowers for us to enjoy. It’s almost like a compensation for not having flashy, obvious carnivory. What an interesting balance! Seriously, I’m like this over here:

giphy

If you can appreciate the subtleties of Utricularia, you’ll find that many species are also ridiculously easy to grow and make excellent beginner plants! Read the care tips below to get a head start on raising your own Utrics!

Quick note: These instructions mainly apply to terrestrial Utricularia, which are the most numerous and most widely available in cultivation. If you find aquatic, temperate, or epiphytic Utrics, you’ll want to do more reading.

Resources on the internet are a bit sparse for the less common Utricularia, so I recommend picking up Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Natch Greyes. The section on bladderworts is very in-depth and detailed!

And now onto the care details!

Utricularia Sandersonii in a glass bowl terrarium
Utricularia sandersonii. Photo credit: aquaticplantcentral.com

Water: Many Utricularia enjoy very wet, almost semi-aquatic conditions. Don’t let them dry out and occasionally allow the water to rise above the soil level. For some species, this helps induce flowering too!

Like all carnivorous plants, use low mineral or mineral-free water, such as distilled water, rain water, or purified water by reverse osmosis.

Planters: Utricularia are not picky and can grow in a variety of containers, even cups with no drainage holes! I prefer containers with no drainage because they make it easier to raise the water above the soil level. They don’t have extensive root systems, so planters can be deep or shallow.

Love terrariums? Utrics make great terrarium plants too! Read this post for more details! 

You can repot them at any time of year. Simply separate a clump of leaves when the pot becomes crowded and put it in fresh media.

Soil: Long-fibered sphagnum moss is perfect for Utricularia. Species like U. calycifida prefer it. I’ve also used 2 parts organic peat moss to 1 part perlite. Most importantly, the soil must be inert and free of minerals, fertilizers, or any other additives.

Utricularia blanchetii, a carnivorous bladderwort with ruffly purple flowers.
Utricularia blanchetii

Light: I’ve found that many Utricularia grow happiest in partial, indirect sun. A sunny windowsill or indoor light works perfectly. Some direct sunlight is good, but I never do more than 4-6 hours of direct sun.

Dormancy: Many Utricularia in cultivation don’t require dormancy, though some may grow more slowly in the winter due to cooler temperatures. Utricularia generally shouldn’t experience freezing temperatures. Keep their temperatures between 50 – 86 F.

Food:  Because of their highly complex, yet totally hidden bladder structures, Utricularia are unfortunately impossible to hand-feed like other carnivores. They eat microscopic critters in the soil, such as nematodes and water fleas.

However, you can boost Utricularia growth with foliar feeding. Maxsea 16-16-16 is a gentle plant fertilizer that many carnivorous plant enthusiasts use. Mix ½ teaspoon with a gallon of distilled water and spray your plants once every two weeks.

Utricularia livida
Utricularia livida

To summarize: Very moist soil and some direct sunlight, but not a huge amount, and moderate temperatures. That’s really it! If Utricularia blow your mind like they do mine, consider them an excellent carnivorous plant for beginners. They’re also generally one of the most affordable carnivorous plants on the market, due to small size and being easy to propagate!

Periodically, I will have a few different Utricularia available in the shop. Make sure you sign up for emails to be the first to know when plants are available! More plants will be in the store later this week! Sign up for email alerts below!



10 comments

  1. SFLguy says:

    You know, I was thinking of buying nematodes so that i could feed my Utrics, I’m really interested to see if that will help promote growth or not.

  2. Cora says:

    Hi, I just ordered my first utricularia sandersonii from the carnivourous plant nursery online! It hasn’t come yet but I was wondering what do you grow yours in? Most of my other plants are in a peat mixture, but this is my first bladderwort. I know you say both could work but I’ve seen your beautiful sandersonii and just wanted to know what you had him in? If you feed him? Indoors, out? ??? Long post sorry

    • Maria says:

      Hi Cora! Congratulations on your first U. sandersonii!

      I grow mine in 2 parts peat and 1 part perlite. I water it every day, occasionally “flooding”, meaning let the water get above the soil level.

      It’s in a teacup with no drainage hole. I’ve noticed U. sandersonii are a little sulky when being repotted. They won’t make new flowers until maybe 2-3 months in their new vessel. But you will see their leaves spread out and they’ll start bursting with flowers soon enough!

  3. Cora says:

    Awesome! Thanks! I’m so excited, I hate ordering online cause of the long wait but to get the good plants from good nurseries its kinda a must.

  4. Kim says:

    I too have my first U. sandersonii inbound from Predatory Plants thanks to you. 😉

    Will the sphagnum moss they are sending cut with the same ratio of perlite you use with peat work well, or should I just get myself some peat?

    Thanks!

    • Maria says:

      I believe PP grows their plants in pure sphagnum moss, so you wouldn’t have to add anything to the moss they give you if you don’t want to.

  5. Alex says:

    Hey Maria! I’m thinking about getting a U.bisquamata from California carnivores. But I heard they are annuals and I would prefer a perennial. But I heard that if you keep them damp year-round they can be a perennial. Is this true? If so, then do you grow Utricularia bisquamata? And if you do, do you have any advice for growing it? Thank you so much for all your help☺️☺️

    • Maria says:

      Hi Alex! U. bisquamata spreads itself out so easily and readily, it’s pretty ridiculous. I have it, but never bought it. It came as a hitchhiker with other plants, and is now spreading throughout my pots. You can buy pretty much any other plant from CC and it will include U. bisquamata in it, lol.

      Keep it damp like all of your other carnivores, and you won’t be able to get ride of it. 😉 Hope that answers your question, hehe!

  6. Alex says:

    Great! Now I can save money by buying a sarracenia and have U.bisquamata come with it for free! Hahaha😂😂
    But seriously, thanks for the advice!

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