Butterwort Plant
Pinguicula sp.


Butterworts are a most unusual carnivorous plant. Unlike many other plants, these have a wide variety of habitats which they can grow. In addition, the history of these plants is equally unusual. Although it is a very widely distributed plant, most of the 70 described species have only been recently identified! The first one, Pinguicula acuminata, was first described in 1839, but the original plant was lost. It was re-discovered in 1989. Since this time, many new species from around the world have been discovered.

The carnivorous nature of Butterworts was described by Charles Darwin, who took a great interest in many carnivorous plants. In his book, Insectivorous Plants, he published many studies with the Butterwort which described two aspects of this plants ability to eat insects: Leaf Curling and Acid Production. The leaf of the Butterwort is covered with a greasy liquid that resembles the feel of butter, hence the name Butterwort. When an insect lands on the leaf, it gets stuck to the grease and starts to produce acids and enzymes which Darwin said was so powerful that an insect would fall apart if you simply touched it after the bug has been in this liquid too long. In addition to the acid and enzyme production, the leaf curls to catch a pool of liquid that forms. This liquid is full of nutrients which are reabsorbed by the leaves.


As I mentioned above, the Butterworts grow in a variety of climates. They are very similar to Sundews in this respect, and are the second most diverse or the carnivorous plants with respect to growing conditions. Most of the Butterworts grow in the Northern Hemisphere, and about anywhere in the northern hemisphere! In addion to this, there are some populations along the Pacific coast of southern South America. Butterworts can grow in deserts along side cacti; in artic regions on mosses, on trees, as 'air' plants, or in moist environments! Besides this, some are temperate and require a dormancy period, some are from slightly warmer areas, and some tropical. If you aquire a Butterwort, it is best to know what kind it is so that you can give it the best possible growing conditions.

The most common place to find a Butterwort is in the Caribbean or Europe where most of the species are found. In addition to this, there are species scattered in highlands, lowlands, arctic areas, and desserts.

Growing Specifics

The Butterworts can be a challenge to grow if you do not know where they come from. I only have one Pinguicula from Mexico, which grows well in a terrarium, but many of the Butterworts will not grow well in this environment. Almost all Butterworts grow well in the Tray Watering Method, though the temperate varieties also requir overhead watering. For soil, the tropical Butterworts need rapid draining of water, so include lots of sand, thick events, perlite, or vermiculite. The temperate species will do well in my typical soil.

Remember that temperate species will require a dormant period in the winter.


Click on the photos to see larger images.

Pinguicula primuliflora

This is the only Butterwort species that I have. This photo is of the leaves.

Flowering Butterwort

A flowering Butterwort. You can see the shinny 'butter' all over the plant, even on the flower stalks.

Close-up of the Butterwort

This close-up of the leaves shows some detail of the 'butter', which gives the plant the name. The black dots are lunch!

Butterwort Flower 1

The flower of the Butterwort.

Butterwort Flower 2

A close-up on the flower.