Butterwort (Pinguicula) Care
Pinguicula is another genus of carnivorous plants in the Lentibulariaceae family. There are only two other genera contained within this family, the bladderworts Utricularia and Genlisea, the corkscrew plant. Pinguicula, or Butterworts (not to be confused with their cousins the bladderworts) capture insects with short, glandular hairs that secrete sticky mucilage to capture their prey. Sundew have a similar process to capture prey, but the hairs and drops of mucilage are notably smaller on butterworts. Pinguicula are known for their beautiful, orchid like flowers that will last for weeks on end. They grow in rosettes, never growing too tall. Their flowers bloom high above the rest of the plant to ensure that they do not accidentally trap and eat their pollinators before getting to the next flower. Naturally, you can find these little greasy ones on cliff or rock faces, on mossy trees, or on the ground near streambanks. They are certainly a versatile plant! Unlike other carnivorous plants, butterworts are easily grown inside and can control any gnats, fruit flies, or mosquitoes that you happen to have indoors. Like other carnivorous plants, butterworts have evolved to absorb nutrients through their leaves, rather than their roots. Carnivorous plants share this trait due to the soil conditions in their natural habitat. The soils in which they grow have dramatically less minerals and nutrients available to the plants. Because of this adaptation, the roots have become extremely sensitive. The root sensitivity impacts what types of water and soil are safe to use on your butterworts.
The only safe water to use on your butterworts include distilled, rain, reverse osmosis, or dehumidifier water. Putting water through a ZeroWater filter with an up to date filter is also safe. Pinguicula do tolerate more salts and minerals than other carnivorous plants, but it is still not safe to use tap or well water with
them, as the impurities in the water will build up in the soil. As for how frequently to water your pings, that can vary. Temperate species of pinguicula will go dormant, when they are in this stage in their life cycle, they will not need nearly as much water. The leaves will become smaller and stop secreting that sticky mucilage that traps and digests their prey. In the image at the top of this page, you can see great examples of both active growth and hibernacula, the form the plants take when they are dormant. When these temperate species are dormant, allow them to dry between watering. Once the soil has dried to the preferred level, fully saturate the soil. When in active growth, you may find success in two different watering strategies. Option 1 is continuing the same water pattern, allow them to dry, then water thoroughly. Option 2 is a similar watering strategy as other carnivorous plants you may be fond of. Place the butterwort in a tray of water, and keep at least 1/2 to 1 inch of distilled water in the tray. Growers have had success with both strategies, so be sure to listen to your plant. If it is showing signs of distress with one watering method, try the other.
Soil is another important aspect that is influenced by the sensitivity of the roots. They require fast draining soil with little to no nutrients. Regular potting soil has fertilizers infused into the soils and will burn the roots and kill your plant. The Carnivorous Plant Soil available on my shop listed here is designed to suit a variety of carnivorous plants and is what the butterworts are grown in here. The biggest and most essential part of repotting pings is to remember generic potting soil is not carnivore safe. There are ways to grow butterworts without the use of soil. Many growers prefer to mount them to rocks that they then keep moist to allow the plant to continue its uptake of water. This is achieved by placing the ping on the rock and temporarily securing it until the roots take hold. Roughly textured rocks, such as lava rocks are the best to use. While mounting straight to the rock is possible, many growers opt to drill holes in the rock and plant the pings in the hole with sphagnum moss. This method has much more success, as it is easier to keep the plants watered with the absorbent moss. If mounting straight to the rock, the most success is with those that have at least one large divot to rest your plant in.
Like many other carnivorous plants, butterworts prefer full to partly sunny conditions. They tolerate less sun than Venus flytraps, Sarracenia, and most species of sundew, but still require bright light. They do well in a bright windowsill or in strong indirect light all day long. When grown in full sun or under a stronger grow light, the leaves will blush either pink or red. These plants also often do well under fluorescent lighting, making them a better choice of carnivorous plant than most others for the office! If your plant is used to a dimmer area, moving them to a bright, full sun location immediately carries the risk of sunburn. To lower this risk, slowly adjust your plant to the full sun conditions by leaving it outside for a few hours, then bringing it indoors. Increase the amount of hours per day your plant is outside until it can tolerate full sun.
Dormancy in these plants is characterized by a tight rosette of small, succulent leaves. If you use the tray method of watering, dormancy is the time to switch watering methods. If you continue to keep pings wet while they are dormant, they will rot. Continue to allow the soil to dry before switching to the tray method again until the pings begin to grow the larger, carnivorous leaves. Watering should not be ceased completely. Simply allow the soil to dry before watering again. Do not stop watering until the plants begin to go dormant themselves. Follow the plant's lead when it comes to dormancy!
Fertilizer and Feeding
Fertilizing these plants is not an easy thing to do and should not be done by beginner growers. Diluted liquid fertilizer applied to the leaves is safe, but again, is not easy. Pings grown outside will attract their own food and will not need fertilizer. If you see fruit flies or gnats stuck to the leaves of this plant, do not remove them. Allowing them to stay on the leaves will ensure the plant continues to digest the insects and does not pose a risk to the plant. If you decide to feed your plant, be sure the insect is still somewhat alive to trigger digestion. Small insects are best, things like fruit flies and gnats. Wingless fruit flies are available for purchase at reptile expos and pet stores, though feeding your plant is not necessary, so long as it receives occasional food. Even putting it outside for a night will likely land it a mosquito meal.
Pinguicula follow the same guidelines for carnivore safe pots as the rest of the carnivorous plants do. Plastic, glass, and fully glazed ceramic with drainage holes will make a great home for your new plant. As mentioned above, lava rock can also provide an interesting display for your plants. Ceramic that is not glazed on both the inside and outside as well as terra cotta or metal pots will leech nutrients into the soil slowly and will eventually kill your plant. The roots are not extensive on pings and they will not need repotted frequently, however the time will likely come that it needs a new pot. Repotting is easiest when the plants are in their dormant state.
While it is not common that these plants will have pests or disease, it unfortunately can happen. It can be stressful for both the plant and its grower when something seems to be going wrong. Here are the most common ways your ping may need some help.
Yes, carnivorous plants can still be eaten by insects! Aphids are some of the most common pests you will see all across the carnivorous plant families and species. Aphids are a sap-sucking insect that produce honeydew, a sticky, sugary excrement that can lead to sooty mold, a fungal pest that will impact the ability of the plant to photosynthesize and the overall health of the plant. Aphids are usually found on the new growth, but due to the small size of most species of butterworts, they can be found all over the plant. Physical removal is an option, as well as a strong blast of carnivore safe water. Using beneficial insects to treat the aphid infestation on carnivorous plants runs the risk of all of your beneficial insects being eaten by your plants! Instead, if the previously mentioned physical removal methods do not work, a light application of pyrethrin insecticides will help to kill the aphids. Be sure to get as little on the roots or in the water as possible. Consider flushing the soil a few days after the application to decrease the risk to the plant.
Slugs and Snails
Gastropods, slugs and snails, are too large to be caught by the pinguicula, however they are not above munching on your plants. Consider growing them where snails and slugs cannot reach them, such as on a table or elsewhere the intruders will dry out before they reach your plants. If this is not possible, beer traps are effective at luring snails and slugs away from your plants. Small trays of old beer left out overnight will have several gastropods sitting in the beer, unable to make their way home from the free bar and possibly having drowned. Be sure to dispose of the slugs and snails far away or in the trash to avoid the risk of some of them not having drowned yet.
Holes in the Leaves
If the leaves appear to have holes in them shortly after touching the soil, you may have a case of some fungal microbes in your soil. The best way to treat this issue is with prevention. Using clean, fresh soil and not fertilizing, especially fertilizing the soil will be the best way to prevent this from occurring. Microbes thrive on a nitrogen rich environment, which your plant will not.
While pings can survive for a time in somewhat boggy conditions during their growing season, they cannot be watered like this constantly. Too much water impairs the ability for roots to perform the gas exchange needed, meaning they will suffocate. This is another reason why it is important to recognize dormancy in your plants and adjust watering accordingly.
Pinguicula are a wonderful plant to have in the home, especially when they begin to bloom. While they may not be the easiest carnivorous plant out there when others are definitely less maintenance, they are still relatively easy when compared to other houseplants you may be a little more familiar with. The orchid like blooms will last for weeks and come in lots of different colors, the leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A collection of pings is really something to behold... and gnats will never be a problem again!
As always, if you have any questions at all, please don't be afraid to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the question pertains to the health and wellness of a specific plant in your care, be sure to send lots of photos and a brief description of how you have been caring for the plant.