True free-floating bladderworts are annual plants that lack roots but have flowers on erect stems above the water. The entire floating plant is only about 8 inches tall. Flowers emerge above the surface and are yellowish with 3-lobes and a spur underneath. Underwater the leaf branches or petioles are fleshy and inflated with air which allows them to float. Leaves are whorled with 4 to 10 lateral leaves which fork often giving them a very delicate capillary appearance. Bladderworts are unique in that the underwater leaves bear small oval “bladders” that trap and digest small aquatic creatures. Bladderworts are usually found in quiet shallow, acidic waters and can form dense mats.
Submerged portions of all aquatic plants provide habitats for many micro and macro invertebrates. These invertebrates in turn are used as food by fish and other wildlife species (e.g. amphibians, reptiles, ducks, etc.). After aquatic plants die, their decomposition by bacteria and fungi provides food (called “detritus”) for many aquatic invertebrates. Bladderwort has no known direct food value to wildlife.