The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 11.5
- courtesy of -
The International Carnivorous Plant Society

Utricularia section Orchidioides
Species Range Habit1
U. alpina2 Antilles, n South America T/E
U. asplundii2 Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela T/E
U. buntingiana2 n Venezuela E
U. campbelliana2 Venezuela, Guyana (& n Brazil?) E
U. cornigera Brazil T/EA
U. endresii2 Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador E
U. geminiloba2 Brazil T/L
U. humboldtii Venezuela, Guyana, n Brazil E/EA
U. jamesoniana2 Central America, Antilles, South America E
U. nelumbifolia Brazil E/EA
U. nephrophylla Brazil T/L/EA
U. praetermissa2 Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama T/E
U. quelchii2 Venezuela, Guyana, n Brazil T/E
U. reniformis Brazil T/EA
U. unifolia2 Central America, w South America T/E
1T=terrestrial; E=epiphyte; L=lithophyte; EA=emergent aquatic.
2A tuberous species.

Q: About Utricularia section Orchidioides

Utricularia alpina
U. alpina
A: With this section, we discuss some of the most spectacular species in the genus. The plants in section Orchidioides are the celebrities of the genus Utricularia; other than a very few exceptions (like U. longifolia or U. floridana), no other species can boast such large leaves or spectacular flowers. Oh the flowers... Truly they are marvels using any criterion! Yes, the flowers of most Utricularia are beautiful, but they must be examined closely to be appreciated. Not so for species of this section. They really knock your socks off!

However, size comes with a cost. These plants, sometimes called the "orchid-flowering" or "epiphytic" Utricularia, can be very picky. Some like it surprisingly cool (especially those from tepuis), others like to be subjected to periods of desiccation (especially the true epiphytes). They survive these periods by subsisting on the water stored in large tubers. In terms of cultivation, refer to my discussion on growing epiphytic and emergent Utricularia.

Until recently, some of these species were classified in a separate section called Iperua, but these two sections (the old Orchidioides and Iperua) were not monophyletic, and so were joined. Do not worry if you are confused by issues related to monophyly and paraphyly; many scientists are equally confused about this, and just pretend otherwise.

Utricularia alpina--This is a tuberous species. It is fitting that this is the first in my alphabetical listing, since it is generally considered the easiest of the tuberous species to grow. If you are unable to coerce this species to thrive, do not waste your time or money on the others.

Utricularia asplundii--To my eyes, this one of the less attractive species in this group. My complaint is that the calyx lobes are really large compared to the corolla. Granted, the flower is relatively huge when compared to the flowers other species in the genus, but when you live in section Orchidioides, you are held to a higher standard! It is relatively easy to grow.

Utricularia buntingiana--This species has only been seen and collected a few times. Its large flower dwarfs the rest of the plant.

Utricularia cornigera--This species was recently separated from Utricularia reniformis. It is known to horticulturists as Utricularia 'Big Sister.' It has big leaves, and flowers with a pair of vertical orange lines.

Utricularia humboldtii--One of the relatively easily grown species from the group. This species has two kinds of leaves. The aerial leaves have long petioles and are paddle-shaped and very leathery. The other leaves are aquatic, and are divided into several lobes. It has the largest flowers, and just about the largest bladders and leaves too, of the whole genus. It lives in the urns of large bromeliads (although it can live in other suitably moist sites), including those of the carnivorous Brocchinia species. From time to time, it produces long arcing shoots that apparently seek out new places to live. A fabulous species.

Something really cool about this (and related) species is that when the seeds are mature, they are clear, glassy, and flattened. They look like chips of glass, and you can see the embedded, green seedling inside. When moistened, the seed bursts, and the seedling crawls out of the seed. The entire germination process takes about seven hours. It is amazing to watch, and you cannot help but think that you are watching a plant hatch, instead of germinate!

If you have seeds from this plant, you should keep them moist. Research I have done on seed storage for this plant indicates that the best way to keep the seeds viable is in plastic bags, in your refrigerator.

Utricularia jamesoniana--This is fairly tricky to grow. Part of the problem is that it is exceedingly tiny, so make sure you do not grow this in live Sphagnum, as moss will overtake it. The spur of this flower is relatively huge. A true epiphyte, it grows on the trunks of mossy trees.

Utricularia nelumbifolia--One of the marvels of the genus, this species has peltate leaves that can become gigantic---about 10cm in diameter. This plant apparently only grows in the urns and leaf axils of bromeliads (Vriesia species).

Utricularia nephrophylla--This is one of the beginner's plants from this section. It can be grown easily like a tropical species and it will perform well in this condition. Its tiny little kidney-shaped leaves are darling.

Utricularia quelchii--This spectacular species shares with U. campbelliana and U. menziesii the distinction of being a red-flowered Utricularia. It often grows in the leaf axils of Brocchinia.

Utricularia reniformis--Think of this as an upscale version of U. nephrophylla; in fact the two can sometimes be difficult to tell apart when not in flower. A common form in cultivation is called U. reniformis 'Enfant Terrible,' which produces both tiny and medium-sized leaves. The vertical lines on the flower are yellow, bordered in white. Large plants, formerly identified as this species, have been split to Utricularia cornigera.

Utricularia quelchii × praetermissa 'Jitka'--A nice hybrid with very pretty flowers that have shades of pink, orange, and yellow.

Page citations: Rice, B.A. 2006a; Studnicka, 2009; Taylor, P. 1989; personal observations.

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Revised: July 2011
©Barry Rice, 2005