Species profile: Utricularia lowriei

Species profile: Utricularia lowriei

Utricularia lowriei is an antennae-bearing bladderwort endemic to Cape York, Queensland, NE Australia. The species is notable for the unusual shape of its flowers, which have been suggested to mimic the shape of an insect.

U. lowriei is identified by its long appendages that emerge from the lower corolla lip. These consist of a set of two very long upwards pointing appendages, and three downwards pointing ones. Of the downwards pointing appendages, the central appendage is usually the longest. The upper corolla lip is oval-shaped and points forwards. The palate is open, with a protruding ridge at the opening. The spur is ‘scrotiform’, with two paired pouch-like structures that hang downwards. The flowers are a peachy orange or sometimes blushed with pink.

The species is found across the Cape York peninsula, with sporadic sightings from around Cooktown to, Weipa, to the top of Cape York. I first observed it growing north of Cooktown where it was growing on wet sand at the edge of a shallow swamp. I also found it at several sites in swamps the floodplain of Jackey Jackey Creek where it grew in waterlogged brown silty soil amongst Nepenthes tenax.

The flowers emit a fragrance after sunset which suggests that they are probably pollinated at night. In the gentle breeze, the movement of the appendages strongly resembles an insect. It has been suggested, but never directly observed, that the shape of the flower might mimic a pollinating insect and that the plants could be pollinated through pseudocopulation. Despite staying after sunset, I was not able to observe the pollinator.

U. lowriei is similar to other antennae-bearing bladderworts that are found across tropical Australia. The species is distinguished by the three downwards pointing appendages (5 in U. capilliflora, 1 in U. dunstaniae) and two upwards pointing ones that all emerge from the lower corolla lip (those of U. dunlopii emerge from the upper corolla lip).

Close up of U. lowriei
View of entire flower
Plants in habitat on the floodplain of Jackey Jackey Creek
Plant in habitat north of Cooktown
A very variable patch of plants near Sanamere Lagoon
These flies seemed to congregate on the flowers after sunset but I did not observe them pollinating the flowers.
Close Menu