Seedy Elegance ~ Bladderpod


Despite its unromantic names, bladderpod or bagpod (Sesbania vesicaria) is an attractive member of the legume family. Growing as much as six to ten feet tall, it’s found in the eastern half of Texas, where it becomes especially noticeable in fall when the entire plant turns yellow or gold.

The seed pods responsible for the plant’s common names consist of two distinct layers; an outer, thicker membrane conceals another which is papery, flexible, and thin. Each pod holds two or three seeds, and the pods remain on the plant long after the leaves have fallen and the seeds have been dispersed.

The almost skeletal structure of the plant makes it possible to focus on individual pods as they ripen and release their seeds. In the first photo, the top pod is beginning to release two seeds. The middle pod, which seems to hold only one seed, still is fully intact, and the bottom pod is empty.

In the second photo, the papery membrane has detached but still is clinging to one pod; it appears those seeds already have fallen.


Comments always are welcome.

43 thoughts on “Seedy Elegance ~ Bladderpod

  1. An interesting plant, probably not frequently the topic of a blog post, so this coverage is especially welcomed.

    1. ‘Seedy’ rhymes with ‘weedy, and many people would dismiss this plant as a weed. But its flowers are lovely, and it provides a nice bit of color in the fall, even though I missed geting some photos this year. I love the structure of the seed pods. Like trees bereft of leaves, seed pods can be structurally interesting.

  2. You’ve chosen to focus on individual plants rather than the expansive colonies I remember from the NPSoT field trip in Galveston County two months ago. You did a good job training the pods in the first picture to line up so nicely. What made you go for black and white in the second photograph?

    1. Those pretty yellowed fields you mentioned are what I’d thought to go back and photograph, but I just never got around to it.

      I decided on the black and white for two reasons. The first photo was taken on a somewhat dim and cloudy day; the second was taken near noon on a day with no clouds, and the most vibrant blue sky you can imagine. I felt as though the bright blue sky not only drew attention away from the first photo, it also made the papery membrane seem insignificant. So, I decided to give the black and white a try, and I ended up liking it.

  3. Elegance, indeed. I love these shots–the simplicity, clean lines, subtle coloring. These are really nice captures. I just love shots of seeds and their pods, and yours are spectacular!

    1. I was tickled to see those three pods so nicely lined up. They were among the highest, so there was a chance to move around and capture them without any interference from other parts of the plant. I was especially glad to finally figure out the difference between the bladderpod and the rattlebush — both members of the genus Sesbania, and both so common here. I love the seed pods, too — I’m glad these appealed to you.

    1. I know. I had a hard time deciding which was worse: bagpod or bladderpod. The names make sense, but this is one instance where just using the scientific name might be better!

    1. I do regret that I didn’t photograph an entire field of them earlier, when they were so pretty and golden. They have pretty racemes of yellow-to-orange flowers, too, but I missed those this year. Next time!

  4. How fascinating (despite its not-so-pretty name!). I don’t guess we have these here, or if we do, I’ve never noticed them and surely never knew *to* notice them. I like the shot of its papery membrane though. That kind of looks like the seeds were planning on escaping via parachute!

    1. This is another plant that’s common in Mississippi, but doesn’t make it far enough north for you to come across it. There’s another Sesbania that has a longer pod and more seeds. It’s called rattlebush — and I’ll bet you can figure out why. Yep — those seeds rattle in their pods quite loudly.

    1. This particular member of the Sesbania genus isn’t so nice. It contains a toxin called sesbaimide, which is concentrated in the seed. It’s been responsible for livestock poisoning in goats and cattle, and apparently birds leave it alone. On the other hand, it is a larval host plant for the Duskywing Skipper (Erynnis zarucco), so it does have value.

  5. First image is an elegant sculpture, beautifully seen.
    Second image, LOVE it as a black and white – we’re getting you into black and white.
    Hope the moving is going well.

    1. Don’t hold your breath when it comes to black and white. An occasional decision that an image would look better in black and white isn’t the same as falling in love with black and white — I still prefer color. But at least I’m willing to give black and white a chance, eh?

      That first image seemed sculptural to me, too — but not static. It reminded me of a mobile by Calder.

      Comcast is cutting off my service sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. tonight, and claim to be establishing service at my new address at the same time. We’ll see! What I am sure of is that the movers are showing up at 9 a.m. to deal with the furniture, boxes of books, and so on. I still have some work to do, taking down shelves and such, but I think I’ll put that off until morning.

  6. Very nice photos of the bladder pod. I think, but I am not sure that I have seen this plant growing in central Texas but maybe I have it confused with another plant that produces pods. I am thinking of “rattle pod” or rattle bush or something of the sorts. At any rate the bladder pod if picked before it begins to disintegrate makes for a nice addition for a dried fall flower arrangement.

    1. I’m sure you’ve seen both this plant and the rattlebush. They’re in the same genus, and both are near your area — just a county or so away on the maps. It amazes me how long some of these plants will last in dry arrangements. When I was sorting through some things in preparation for moving, I bit the bullet and finally threw away the various grasses I’d kept — some for as much as five years. I didn’t throw away my tumbleweed, though. I still haven’t tried moving it. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t just crumble away to dust, but if it doesn’t, I have an out-of-the-way spot for it in my new place.

    1. It helped that it wasn’t particularly windy that day: breezy, but not the kind of strong wind we’d been having. I love the spring flowers, but there’s a lot to see in this declining season, too — even if the plants have funky names.

      By the way — I just noticed a quarter today with a great blue heron on the back. I’d never seen one, and I discovered it’s to honor a wildlife refuge in Delaware. I’ve only known Delaware as a place for people to register their boats — I had no idea the state’s filled with marshes and birds, too.

  7. If this were Britain, they’d be called something like “fairy lanterns” rather than something as unimaginative as “bladderpod.” In fact, I could see them in wrought iron with amber lenses on some Frank Lloyd Wright-esk edifice.

    1. Believe me, ‘bladderpod’ isn’t the worst the botanists and taxonomists have come up with. I didn’t see them as lanterns, but I thought they might do nicely on a Calder mobile. You’re right, though: done in wrought iron and amber glass, they’d be really attractive. Their close relative, the rattlepod, makes great percussive sounds, like seeds rattling in a gourd.

  8. I also saw these as old, tarnished lanterns. They reminded me of old pictures of “link-boys” carrying lanterns on the end of sticks, to guide people through the streets of London, in the days before street lighting (but ironically, I couldn’t find a link to a picture! :) )

    1. I’d never heard of the link-boys, but I found this cool article about today’s ‘guardians of the lights’ that mentions them. My first thought was of a song popular when I was very young, called “The Old Lamplighter. I never hear it without tearing up — no idea why, unless it might be a combination of the song itself and memories of my mom singing it to very young me when she wanted me to go to bed. I love that there still are lamplighters in London — it’s a little amazing.

  9. You certainly portrayed them as much more interesting than the names would suggest. And how nice that you got three in different stages of release. AND…Black and White! I agree with your observation that the blue sky would have minimized the texture of the pods…or bags, as it were. One of the good reasons for monochrome images.

    1. As much as I love to see things against those pure blue skies, I was interested in my reaction to the second photo. It seemed flat, and not at all interesting. So, I gave black and white a go, and liked it. With a little dodging and burning, the details came out even more sharply — glad you like it.

      Those three pods were just hanging around waiting for me. The plants can be fairly tall, and spread fairly widely, so it wasn’t hard to find a few pods that were isolated. The different stages were, dare I say it, lagniappe.

    1. For whatever reason, I’d never noticed the papery inner “liner” or seen the seeds up close. It’s another great example of a plant that’s so common most people don’t notice it at all, even though the details are really interesting.

  10. This Sesbania genus is also in the Caribbean and I know what you mean about the papery membrane of the pods. The leaves of these trees are always really small. Aren’t they?

    1. They are small, and their arrangement is obviously pea-like, giving them a bit of an airy appearance. I just was looking for an image to confirm my memory, and discovered that searching for ‘bladderpod’ turns up quite different species. I didn’t get the right one until I used the scientific name. This shows the leaves nicely.

  11. I see. I will try to look for them here too. How mysterious is that name ‘bladder’ ‘pod’, what would resemble or be ‘bladder-like’…

    1. I suspect the name came from the resemblance of the pod to traditional wine bladders. There’s a bit of information here. I found it interesting that in parts of Canada people buy their milk in plastic bags called bladders, too.

    1. Lucky that my new place is at least a little larger than these pods — although I will say I have all the space I need. I could use more counter space in the kitchen, but I’ve found a way around that for larger projects.

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