Carnivorous Plants of Massachusetts

Three types of carnivorous plants occur in Massachusetts – sundews, pitcher plants, and bladderworts. Sundews and pitcher plants typically occur in bogs, where nutrients are scarce. Carnivory is an important adaptation that enables these plants to flourish in a low nutrient environment. Bladderworts are aquatic plants that occur in ponds, swamps, and marshes, and may be free-floating beneath the water surface (e.g., Utricularia macrorhiza) or found along muddy shores (e.g. U. cornuta). Bladderworts typically occur in waters rich in zooplankton. Sundew, pitcher plant, and bladderwort species occurring in Massachusetts are listed below.

Sundews (Family Droseraceae)


Sundews have modified leaves with sticky mucilage-tipped tentacle hairs. Insects coming into contact with the tentacle hairs become stuck. The prey’s repeated movements trigger movement of the tentacle hairs, which begin encompassing the prey until the prey becomes enfolded in the leaf. The tentacle hairs release an anesthetic and digestive enzymes and the prey is slowly dissolved and absorbed by the plant. The following three species of sundew occur in Massachusetts:

Drosera filiformis (Thread-leaved sundew)
Drosera intermedia (Spatulate-leaved sundew)
Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved sundew)

Pitcher Plants (Family Sarraceniaceae)

pitcher plant

Pitcher plants trap insects in pitcher-shaped leaves. The “pitchers” contain water, bacteria (which aid in digestion of prey), and possibly digestive enzymes. Insects falling into the pitchers are typically unable to escape due to downward pointing hairs and numbing secretions in the pitcher. They drown and their byproducts become absorbed by special cells at the bottom of the pitchers. Only one species of pitcher plant (listed below) occurs in Massachusetts.

Sarracenia purpurea (Northern pitcher plant)

Bladderworts (Family Lentibulariaceae)

Bladderworts contain small bladders that trap tiny aquatic animals. The bladders are deflated until sensitive hairs outside of the bladders are triggered by the movement of a zooplankter or other prey. Once triggered, the bladders open, drawing in water and prey before snapping shut. The prey is then digested by enzymes and bacteria inside the bladder and the byproducts are absorbed by the plant. The following 13 species of bladderwort occur in Massachusetts:

Utricularia biflora (Two-flowered bladderwort)
Utricularia cornuta (Horned or naked bladderwort)
Utricularia fibrosa (Fibrous bladderwort)
Utricularia geminiscapa (Twin-scaped bladderwort)
Utricularia gibba (Humped bladderwort)
Utricularia inflata (Inflated bladderwort)
Utricularia intermedia (Flat-leaved bladderwort)
Utricularia macrorhiza (Common bladderwort)
Utricularia minor (Lesser bladderwort)
Utricularia purpurea (Purple bladderwort)
Utricularia radiata (Small floating bladderwort)
Utricularia resupinata (Resupinate bladderwort)
Utricularia subulata (Slender bladderwort)


Eastman, J. 1995. The Book of Swamp and Bog. Trees Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen. Stackpole books: Mechanicsburg, PA.

Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 1991. Second Edition. The New York Botanical Garden Press: Bronx, NY.

Sorrie, B.A. and Sommers, P. 1999. The Vascular Plants of Massachusetts: A County Checklist. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

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