Tag Archive: Plants

Plants Don’t Live Forever

A New Yorker cartoon shows a lady shopping a garden center bench for plants. She has three choices at three price points: annuals, $ 6; perennials, $ 10; eternals, $ 749.95.

No matter what the cost, plants don’t live forever. And if they did, what would they cost? They’d probably cost more than $ 749.95. Even though we know plants don’t live forever, we still don’t want a plant that we purchased, planted and cared for to die an early death.

All too often, I find myself in the position of reminding a person of this fact of life – plants don’t live forever.

Palm in decline.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS.

There are extremes, though. The bristlecone pine can live thousands of years. There is one that was named Methuselah, which, at one time, was believed to be the oldest living tree on record approaching more than 4,800 years of age in central California. But in the 1970’s, offspring of Methuselah all died because they were sent to low-altitude locations. The parent tree’s location in the White Mountains is two miles above sea level.

Even though the bristlecone pine can live thousands of years, misplacing it (planted at too low an altitude) results in the tree living a fraction of its potential life. The point is to plant the right plant in the right place. Make sure the plant is well suited for Florida and to the site conditions: that wet site, that dry site, that salty site, that high pH site, that shady site, that sunny site, etc.

The second point is to have realistic expectations based on the plant species. Some plants genetically will live longer than others. One of our longest-lived tree species in Florida is the live oak. There are live oak trees in Florida that are hundreds of years old. But don’t expect a silver maple to make it that long. It’s a shorter-lived tree species. In Florida, a thirty-year-old silver maple is probably in a state of decline due to old age.

The third point is to learn how to correctly plant and maintain the plants you have. For example, most woody plants (trees and shrubs), will live a much shorter life simply from being planted too deep. And an over fertilized centipedegrass lawn will go into a state of decline resulting in the lawn living a shorter life.

Plant the right plant in the right place, learn what it likes and provide it. And when the plant reaches the end of its life, replace it.

Many homeowners spend more than $ 749.95 attempting to turn a short-lived plant into an eternal plant.


Author: Larry Williams – llw5479@ufl.edu

Larry Williams is the County Extension Director and Residential Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County.

Larry Williams

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/18/plants-dont-live-forever/

Why Don’t My Plants Match?

Why Don’t My Plants Match?

Coontie (Zamia floridana) planted at the same time but growing at different rates. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

When designing landscapes, it is popular to create lines and masses of plants for high visual impacts. Plants are carefully selected to be similar in size and shape at the time of installation. They are all grouped together, so they must be getting the same care, but why do they look different years later? There are several factors to consider when we are trying to figure out why a perfectly matched set no longer looks like a uniform planting.

Although plants may be in the same bed, shadows cast at certain times of the day may reduce sunlight to some sections and not others. This can be caused by structures or trees that have grown over time and changed light patterns.

Supplemental irrigation may also be variable even with the best system design. Over time plants grow and may block sprinkler emitters from reaching some sections of landscape beds. Even if the landscape relies on natural rainfall, there can be still be dry/wet spots in the landscape due to drainage off of hard structures, low areas, or wind direction during storms.

It might be possible to adjust some lighting and watering issues, but there is one factor that many gardeners have not considered – genetics. If plants were grown from seed, than variation is not only possible, but likely. This might be displayed as differences in height and width, foliage color, flower color, speed of growth – all may be influenced by parentage despite best efforts to care for each plant similarly.

Many landscape plants are cultivars. This means they are grown from cuttings or divisions which make them identical to the original plant. When a plant is grown from seed, however, there is no guarantee it will have the same specific qualities as the mother plant.

To combat this phenomenon, landscapers should check sunlight and watering for irregular growth patterns and adjust if needed. If a landscape design requires uniform plants, use named cultivars rather than seedling grown plants in lines or masses.


Author: Julie McConnell – juliebmcconnell@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/07/12/why-dont-my-plants-match/

Know How to Choose Florida-Friendly Plants

One of the main Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles is to plant the right plant in the right place. In Florida, not only does this apply to the zone you’re in, soils you have, and light conditions in your garden, but also ensuring that invasive, exotic plant species are not used. While most of us have heard about invasive, exotic plants – those that invade and disrupt our unique natural habitats – some may not know where or how to find out which plants are, in fact, invasive and exotic. Some of the more famous invasive, exotic plant species, such as kudzu and hydrilla, are familiar to us and we may have an idea of a plant in our garden that is “aggressive”, but how do we know for sure? Since only a handful of the worst invasive, exotic plants are legally prohibited from being sold, how do we know if a plant we are considering purchasing at our local nursery or another plant already in our gardens is an invasive, exotic? A quick internet search for Florida invasive plants gets you various sources of information. How do you choose which to use?

The unique habitats of Florida need our help. Prevent the spread of invasive, exotic species by planting Florida-Friendly plants. Source: Mark Tancig/UF/IFAS.

Fortunately, the researchers at UF/IFAS want you to be able to find the best information in one spot – the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. This site systematically reviews individual plant species and provides a recommendation as to whether it should be used in North, Central, or South Florida landscapes. Many landscape plants have been reviewed – over 800 – and more are added to the site as reviews are completed. The UF/IFAS Assessment also reviews cultivars of known invasive, exotic plants to ensure that they are sterile and will not revert back to their wild type or hybridize with known invasives, or even closely related native species.

The UF/IFAS Assessment is a simple, convenient source for deciding if a plant should be used in your Florida landscape.

To use the site, simply visit the main web address – assessment.ifas.ufl.edu – and begin typing in your plant name in the search bar. You can begin spelling the scientific or common name and it will start showing possible results as you type. Once you select the plant you’re interested in, it will take you to a new page with photos of the plant, some general information, additional links, and, most importantly, the assessment conclusion for each zone. The conclusion will be one of the following:

  1. Not considered a problem species at this time,
  2. Caution, or
  3. Invasive

Of course, if it’s not a problem, then feel free to use and share that particular plant. If it is a caution plant, then it may be used, but you will want to be extra careful in where you plant it. Those may be better suited as potted plants or planted in areas that are confined, to limit its potential spread. If it’s invasive, don’t plant it.

Caution plants are reassessed every two years while those that are not considered a problem species or are considered invasive are reassessed every ten years.

Another way to use the UF/IFAS Assessment is to filter all reviewed plants by various criteria you’re interested in. If you select assessments on the main page, it will lead you to a list of all reviewed plants. A filter button allows you to choose geographic zone, conclusion type, and growth habit, among some other criteria. This will create a list that can then be exported to a Microsoft Excel table.

As you can see, UF/IFAS is trying to make it easy for you to determine which plants can be used in the landscape without potentially spreading and causing disruption to our unique natural areas.

If you have any questions about individual species that have or have not been assessed, contact your local County Extension Office.


Author: Mark Tancig – tancig00@ufl.edu

Mark Tancig

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/05/25/know-how-to-choose-florida-friendly-plants/

Miniature Plants with Sizeable Character

Water meal, the world’s smallest flowering plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Some of the world’s smallest flowering plants grow in aquatic environments.  And a number of these tiny aquatic plants grow natively right here in Florida!  Aquatic plants of all kinds display an amazing array of adaptations for growing in water.  They can tolerate drought, flood, flowing water, stagnant water, cold spring runs, and warm brackish marshes.  They grow in sun and shade and nutrient rich to nutrient poor waters.  Some of their adaptations include the ways in which they grow such as being rooted in bottom sediments, submerged, emerged, leaves floating on the surface, or completely free floating with their roots dangling into the water below.

The tiniest of aquatic plants are in this group of free floating plants.  Let’s take a look at five of these tiny (less than ½ inch wide) plant species in Florida.  They are most noticeable in slow moving waters, ponds, or coves protected from wind where many thousands of them form floating mats almost like paint on the water surface. Even though individual plants are small, some of these plant species are used by wildlife and invertebrates for food and cover.  Oftentimes, especially in small ponds, these tiny floating plants can cover the entire water surface resulting in the need for management, especially if the ponds are used for irrigation or livestock watering.

In this article we will look at the native species, but as you are probably aware, there are also non-native representatives of these tiny plants established in our waters, but that is a story for another time…

The images and text below are from the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Species website, list of Plants Sorted by Common Name.

“Water meal, native to Florida, is a tiny, floating, rootless plant. At 1 to 1.5 mm long, it is the smallest flowering plant on earth. It is occasionally found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs of the peninsula and central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003).”

Water meal has a grainy feel and can be used as one clue in identifying this plant.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

American Waterfern

“There are six species of Azolla in the world. American waterfern is the species commonly found in Florida. American waterfern is a small, free-floating fern, about one-half inch in size. It is most often found in still or sluggish waters. Young plants are, at first, a bright or grey-green. Azolla plants often turn red in color. American waterfern can quickly form large, floating mats.”

A large area of waterfern showing the reddish coloration. Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Close up of individual water fern plants.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Giant Duckweed

“Giant duckweed is a native floating plant in Florida. Though very small, it is the largest of the duckweeds…..frequently found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs from the peninsula west to the central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003)…  Giant duckweed has two to three rounded leaves, which are usually connected. Giant duckweeds usually have several roots (up to nine) hanging beneath each leaf. The underleaf surface of giant duckweed is dark red.”

Close up of individual duckweed plants showing roots hanging freely below the plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

A typical scene of duckweed in a quiet cove or pond.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Small Duckweed

“Small duckweeds are floating plants. They are commonly found in still or sluggish waters. They often form large floating mats…. Small duckweeds are tiny (1/16 to 1/8 inch) green plants with shoe-shaped leaves. Each plant has two to several leaves joined at the base. A single root hangs beneath.”

This is small duckweed, note the single root below each plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


“Mud-midget, native to Florida, is another small duckweed, but this one has narrow, elongated fronds. The fronds are usually connected to form starlike colonies. The fronds are 5-10 mm long; the flowers are extremely small and difficult to see.  Mud-midget plants float just beneath the surface of the water and is frequently found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs from the peninsula west to the central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003)….”

Mudmidget, Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

If you have any questions about aquatic plant identification or management options, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension County office.  And, for more information on Florida’s aquatic plants, please see the following resources used for this article:

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Species

Plants Sorted by Common Name

USDA Forest Service – Duckweed

USDA Forest Service – Water Fern

Native Aquatic and Wetland Plant Fact Sheets 

Aquatic Plant Identification List with Pictures and Videos



Author: Judy Biss – judy.biss@ufl.edu

Judy Biss is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent in Calhoun County, Florida

Judy Biss

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/17/miniature-plants-with-sizeable-character/

Annual Bedding Plants This Time of Year?

Annual Bedding Plants This Time of Year?

Yes, even with cool weather setting in, much can be done on the flower gardening front. Let’s kickoff 2017 by being the envy of the neighborhood with flower beds that are rich and vibrant in color.

Figure 1: Bedding Annuals.
Credit: Sydney Park Brown, UF/IFAS.

Annual bedding plants are plentiful in variety and come in an array of colors and forms. These plants will highlight home landscapes, whether in beds or in containers on porches, decks and patios.

Annuals are divided into two categories, warm and cold season. Warm season are tender, and damaged by the first frost. Cool season on the other hand, cannot withstand heat or excessive rainfall. Therefore, to be successful with annuals, you must plant at the right time. For this region, late March for the earliest warm season annual planting and late fall for the earliest cool season annual planting is ideal. For the Panhandle, most annuals only live through the season, not the year. For this time of year, some examples of annuals that enjoy cooler temperatures are the pansy, viola, petunia and snapdragon.

When shopping for annuals, pay close attention to how much sunlight the variety will tolerate. This should be displayed on the container. Be sure to plant your annuals under a minimum of partial light. No annual can tolerate heavy shade. Remember when deciding on which variety to purchase, that annuals are an accent piece or supplement to the landscape, and not the focal point. Think of harmony and balance among other plants in your landscape before coming to a decision.

Figure 2: Pot-in-Pot Method.
Credit: Sydney Park Brown, UF/IFAS.

As for care, be sure to water annuals after planting. Provide water on a routine basis until the root system has established. The best way to achieve this is making sure the topsoil layer stays moist early on.

Some gardeners prefer the “pot-in-pot” method with annuals. This method consists of sinking empty pots into the soil and then dropping potted annuals of the same size pot, into the empty pots. This works well for our area for two reasons. Often, our native soils, especially if you live closer to the coast, are not conducive to annual flower bed gardening. By using the pot-in-pot method, rich potted soil encompasses the annual throughout its life span and with no soil bed amendments needed. Also, this can make an otherwise long, laborious gardening day become very short regarding the change out planting from cold to warm season annuals and vice versa.

When supplying water to annuals, be careful with high pressure overhead watering systems, as this can damage petals and can cause bloom rot. A drip irrigation system or handheld hose watering is the best method. Fertilize annuals with a controlled release nitrogen fertilizer, so that a steady supply of nutrients is provided throughout the season. For weed control, mulching with use of pre-emergent herbicides is the best course of action. Depending on the size of landscape, hand weeding maybe the best practice. For pest management use a spot treatment insecticide for the entire flower bed once an insect infestation or disease problems emerge.

The information provided in this article will help your annual bedding plant efforts and in turn reward you with a beautiful flower landscape throughout the year. For more information on annual flower bedding plants, please contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS EDIS Publication, “Gardening with Annuals in Florida” by Dr. Sydney Park Brown: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg319

UF/IFAS Extension, An Equal Opportunity Institution.


Author: Ray Bodrey – rbodrey@ufl.edu

Gulf County Extension Director, Agent II Agriculture, Natural Resource & Community Development

Ray Bodrey

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/02/11/annual-bedding-plants-this-time-of-year/

Distorted Plants

Distorted Plants

Plants can become distorted for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes nutrient deficiencies or toxicities can cause plants to become distorted. Sometimes excessive amounts of water or sunlight can cause plants to become distorted. And sometimes insect feeding damage can be the culprit.

Insects can cause plant mutations by feeding alone or by vectoring disease from one plant to another. The most recent and most detrimental example of insects vectoring disease is the Asian Citrus Psyllid, which has distributed Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening, to most of the citrus acreage in Florida and across the United States. Fortunately, the panhandle is currently free from this detrimental disorder. However, we still have a plethora of insects that distort plants by one way or another. One group of plant altering insects are commonly known as planthoppers.

Planthopper adults range in size between 1/8 to 1/4 inches long. They are slender and frequently have an angular, pointed head. Coloration depends on species, but generally planthoppers are of green, brown, or white. Immatures look similar to the adults except they are smaller and don’t have wings. Immatures typically feed on the underside of leaves, where the humidity is higher and they are more protected from predators.

Three growth stages of planthoppers. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

Three growth stages of planthoppers. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

Planthoppers feed on plant leaves and shoots by sucking out the contents. The damage that ensues from feeding depends on the host plant and the hopper species. A few species of hoppers transmit pathogens that can alter plant growth. Usually, adult hoppers are pests only when found in high numbers.

Feeding damage from some species causes small white spots (stippling) to appear on the upper leaf surface, usually beginning near the leaf midrib. Stippled areas eventually merge together into larger whitish blotches. In some plants, feeding damage causes a drying and yellowing (or browning) of leaf tips and some planthopper species cause curling or stunting of newly formed leaves. Oftentimes, white, papery skin castings will remain from the molting process on the undersides of leaves.

Planthopper feeding damage on sweet olive. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

Planthopper feeding damage on sweet olive. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

Planthoppers are rarely present in large enough numbers to cause significant plant damage. Fortunately, planthoppers have many natural enemies including lady beetles, lacewings, damsel bugs, and spiders. Sticky traps are recommended to help monitor planthopper populations. Planthoppers are usually attracted to yellow sticky traps that can be placed among the plant leaves. Small populations can be managed using these traps. If greater populations are present, then insecticidal soap can control young planthoppers. Make sure to spray both the top and underside of the leaves.

Planthoppers are minor pests in the landscape, but they can cause alarming mutations in plant material. Contact your local Extension Office for help with diagnosis and treatment options.



Author: Matt Lollar – mlollar@ufl.edu

Matt Lollar is the Jackson County Horticulture Agent. He has 5 years of experience with University of Florida/IFAS Extension and he began his career in Sanford, FL as the Seminole County Horticulture Agent. Matt is originally from Belle Fontaine, AL. He earned his MS and BS degrees in Horticulture Production from Auburn University.

Matt Lollar

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/09/08/distorted-plants/

Do Your Plants have Problems?

Do Your Plants have Problems?

When you don’t know what’s ailing your plant, ask an expert.


Many gardeners get stumped when a favorite plant of theirs comes down with a strange “something”. Many of these gardeners know about UF/IFAS Extension and call their local horticulture and agriculture agents for assistance in figuring out what’s going on. However, even these experts are often stumped by what they see. Fortunately, the agents have another layer of experts to fall back on. In addition to the resources in Gainesville, we have the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, located at the North Florida Research Center in Quincy. Plant pathologists here can help determine what fungus, bacteria, virus, or viroid may be the problem.


Plant pathologists are basically plant doctors. They use all sorts of sophisticated techniques to determine what is the cause of a particular plant problem, from growing out fungal spores to examining DNA. Not only do these plant doctors tell us what the ailment is, they also provide recommended cures, or control options. They are also doing research to prevent different diseases from taking hold in our area and reduce the impact on our local growers.


Plant pathologist at work!


At a recent workshop in Quincy, we learned that plant pathology researchers are working on a fungus that affects watermelons, virus and bacteria that can wipe out a farmer’s tomato crop, and a virus that could impact our local roses. Working as a team of scientists, they study these pathogens in the lab and conduct controlled field experiments to figure out which techniques are most effective. Some of this research is leading to different methods and/or products that can help growers and gardeners alike keep their fields and landscapes healthy.


So, if your plants have problems, please contact your local Extension Office. If they don’t know the answer, then the network of scientists, including plant pathologists, in the UF/IFAS Extension family can be called on for backup to provide you with the best possible answer.


Author: Mark Tancig – tancig00@ufl.edu

Mark Tancig

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/05/do-your-plants-have-problems/

Know Your Patented Plants

Know Your Patented Plants

Gardeners love to share plants. My yard, like many of my gardener friends, is filled with plant gifts that were started from a cutting or division of a favorite plant.  These two methods of growing new plants is fairly easy once you learn the techniques and allows gardeners a way to save a little money and grow more plants for their yard, special community projects, or even some fundraising events.

In our enthusiasm over a favorite plant, gardeners must be aware that we are not allowed to propagate certain plants from cuttings or division. Many of our ornamental plants, especially newer introductions are patented plants.  These are seen as ‘premium’ plants that will hopefully be in demand by the public.  The plant developer or nursery invests in the patent in hopes that the plant will become the next must have ornamental.  Only businesses or individuals with authorization from the patent holder are able to asexual propagate these plants since the Plant Patent Act protects these new varieties for 20 years from the date of introduction.

So if you bought a beautiful Limelight hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ Plant patent #12,874) for your yard, you may not take a cutting to start a new plant, even if it is only for yourself.

If you want more than one Limelight Hydrangea, you must purchase it. Photo by Beth Bolles

If you want more than one Limelight Hydrangea, you must purchase it. Photo by Beth Bolles

When you visit the nursery, look on the plant label which will often indicate if the plant is patented. You may also look online to see if plant has a patent.


Author: Beth Bolles – bbolles@ufl.edu

Horticulture Agent, Escambia County

Beth Bolles

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/08/know-your-patented-plants/

Native Plants and Wildlife

Native Plants and Wildlife

According to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, there are more than 4,200 plant species naturally occurring in the state.  Nearly 3,000 are considered native.  The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) defines native plants as “those species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact, according to the best available scientific and historical documentation.”  In other words, the plants that grew in natural habitats that existed prior to development.Crossvine

Native plants evolved in their own ecological niches. They are suited to the local climate and can survive without fertilization, irrigation or cold protection.  Because a single native plant species usually does not dominate an area, there is biodiversity.  Native plants and wildlife evolved together in communities, so they complement each other’s needs.  Florida ranks 7th among all 50 states in biodiversity for number of species of vertebrates and plants.  Deer browse on native vines like Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).   The seeds and berries of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) and Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) provide vital food for songbirds, both local and migratory.  Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) provides cover for numerous birds and small mammals, as well as, reptiles.saw-palmetto-palm-tree-picture

Non-native plants become “naturalized” if they establish self-sustaining populations. Nearly one-third of the plants currently growing wild in Florida are not native.  While these plant species from other parts of the world may provide some of the resources needed by native wildlife, it comes at a cost to the habitat.  These exotic plants can become “invasive”, meaning they displace native plants and change the diverse population into a monoculture of one species.  Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), Popcorn trees (Triadica sebifera) and Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) have changed the landscape of Florida over the past decade.  While Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) have changed water flow in many rivers and lakes.  These invasive species cost millions of taxpayer dollars to control.waterhyacinth4

By choosing to use native plants and removing non-native invasive plants, individuals can reduce the disruptions to natural areas. For more information one specific native plants that benefit wildlife go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw384

It learn which plants are invasive go to: http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf


Author: Sheila Dunning – sdunning@ufl.edu


Sheila Dunning

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/04/native-plants-and-wildlife/

Florida’s Aquatic Carnivorous Plants – Yes, Aquatic!

Florida’s Aquatic Carnivorous Plants – Yes, Aquatic!


DId you know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?” This one is Utricularia inflata. Photo by Lyn Gettys

I don’t know about you, but living in “La Florida” – “the land of flowers” (the Spanish translation of Florida – named in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León) makes it difficult to have a short list of favorite plants.  While I do have a number of plants in my “favorites” list, carnivorous plants are always at the top in the “wow, is that real?” category!  Many people have read about, or have seen the carnivorous pitcher plant communities in Florida panhandle bogs, meadows, and seepage slopes, but did you also know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?”


Utricularia’s many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size, and seen in this photo as small dark spots) actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates! Photo by Lyn Gettys

These bladderworts are in the genus Utricularia whose Latin meaning, “little bag,” is descriptive of the many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size) on the plant which actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates!  Bladderworts are found in lakes, ponds, wetlands, and quiet coves of rivers and streams.  They are commonly found in waters with low pH and low nutrients.  One interesting fact is that bladderworts do not have roots. They have main stems from which lacy, intricate leaves grow.  Like other plants, bladderworts produce food by photosynthesis; but the trapped invertebrates supplement the nutritional requirements of this plant.  The Botanical Society of America reports that currently 220 species of Utricularia are found in temperate and tropical habitats throughout the world representing the most diverse and widespread genus of carnivorous plants.

Bladderwort bugwood

A close-up of the tiny Utricularia bladders. Photo by Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org

Similar to a Venus fly trap, hairs on the opening of the bladder act as triggers.  When tiny prey swim by and contact these hairs, it causes the bladder to spring open and inflate, drawing in water and prey like a vacuum.  Research has found that bacteria living in the traps act together in a mutualistic role to digest the food trapped in the bladders.  An article in the Journal of Experimental Botany entitled The carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia, Lentibulariaceae): a system inflates,” details another fascinating aspect of these plants: the bladders often look like the tiny prey (microcrustaceans/cladocerans) they are catching.

“Darwin (1875), noted yet another insight: aquatic Utricularia bladders bear a striking resemblance to microcrustaceans. The bladder shape, surface reticulations, stalk, and especially the antennae and bristles resemble microcrustacean anatomy. Interestingly, the bladders most closely resemble the littoral zone cladocerans (bosminids and chydorids) that are frequently found or overrepresented in bladders (Guiral and Rougier, 2007;  Alkhalaf et al., 2009)….Moreover, experiments reveal that the cladoceran-like structures of bladders significantly improve the capture rates of cladocerans (Meyers and Strickler, 1979; Harms, 1999;  Jobson and Morris, 2001).”

bladderwort flower

Bladderwort flowers are small but beautiful, and are designed to maximize pollination. This is purple bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea). Photo by Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Bladderwort flowers are another beautiful feature of this plant.  In Florida most species have yellow flowers, some are lavender to purple.  The flowers bloom several inches above the water, and their shape is designed to efficiently attract and remove pollen from pollinating insects like bees.  Part of the flower is shaped like a spur which contains a nectar reward for pollinating insects.  This link, The Utricularia, to a Botanical Society of America publication details the botany and pollination ecology of bladderworts.   

We hope this article piques your curiosity about some of Florida’s obscure native, aquatic, carnivorous plants!  Maybe you, too, will include them in your list of favorite La Florida plants!

Below are the publications used for this article:



Author: Judy Biss – judy.ludlow@ufl.edu

Judy Ludlow is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent in Calhoun County, Florida

Judy Biss

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/03/floridas-aquatic-carnivorous-plants-yes-aquatic/

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