Pretty, aren’t they?
Don’t be fooled – beneath their pretty petals, these flowers hide a deadly secret.
Commonly known as fairy aprons or bladderworts, these plants bloom across many of Tasmania’s boggy, wet places. There’s a hint in their scientific name of their treacherous nature. Utricularia means “little bladder”, and it is this organ, buried beneath the sodden quartzite sands, that gives them their bite.
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!
It has been suggested that the name “fairy aprons” fails to adequately describe the micro-beast perspective of these sneaky plant predators. For any small, water-dwelling invertebrate, a more appropriate name for these botanical carnivores might be “purple death flowers”.
Poet Ivy Alvarez has written a poem on fairy aprons, and their carnivorous cousins the sundew – read them here.