How to Grow and Care for Butterworts

Introduction

Pinguiculas, commonly known as butterworts or pings, are a genus of carnivorous plants. Nearly all of the species are native to North America or South America. Butterworts have showy flowers, with many colors that can be pink, red, yellow, or even blue. These plants are commonly used as houseplants or in bog gardens.

Categories of Pinguicula

Pinguicula is divided into several categories around their growth habits.

Cold Temperate Pinguiculas:

Cold Temperate Pinguiculas need a cold winter dormancy. During dormancy, they shrink back into a conical hibernacula. Cold Temperate Pinguiculas grow nearly flat against the surface they are growing on. Flowers can range from pastel lavender-white to deep blue-purple. From far away, these blooms may look like violets. These species tend to grow on moist, loose cliffs, and rarely grow on sloped tree trunks.

Warm Temperate Pinguiculas:

Warm Temperate Pinguiculas need a dormancy, but do not need a cold one. These species are mainly native to South Eastern America, and grow flat to the ground. These species tend to grow in bogs along with other common carnivorous plants. Warm Temperate Pinguiculas are best planted in outdoor bogs in warmer climates.

Tropical Pinguiculas:

Tropical Pinguiculas mostly come from Mexico or Cuba. These butterworts do not have dormancy, though they do form non-carnivorous, succulent leaves for a portion of the year. These species grow in tropical climates, on rocky cliffs or slopes. Some species may even grow next to cacti and succulents. Flowers have a wide range of colors, from vermillion red to lavender-blue. These species are suitable as houseplants or in tropical bog gardens.

Care

Lighting:

Pinguicula aren't very picky about lighting. But, they do need the brightest light you can give. Though it's not recommend to put burning hot sun, but the brightest windowsill in your house or grow lights should be fine. Most of the species enjoy the regular lighting differences of daylight during different times of the year, but it is not needed for most of them. Under bright grow lights, some varieties may develop pink, coral, or purple blush.

Water:

As with nearly all carnivorous plants, Pinguicula need pure water (Rain water, Reverse Osmosis etc.) to grow well. These plants enjoy overhead watering, but continue keeping a tray under it to catch excess water. For Warm Temperate varieties, water them with cold water in the winter. Cold Temperate Pinguiculas are not reccomended as houseplants. Though you can grow them, they won't thrive as much as they would outdoors. For Pinguicula species that go into a succulent phase in the winter, do not water the Pinguicula until the top of the soil dries out.

Soil:

Warm Temperate and Tropical Pinguiculas tend to like sandy, well-draining soil. Soil mixes should be around the ration of 1 peat : 2 perlite, or vermiculite/sand instead of perlite. Some grower like to grow them in gritty mixes, with gravel or pumice. As long as the mix drains very well and is aerated, Pinguicula should grow well in them. Most carnivorous plant soil might not drain well enough for these. Cold Temperate Pinguicula like boggier conditions than some other types, but will do perfectly fine outdoors in the same mix as other bog plants.

Containers:

Pinguicula will do best in plastic or glazed ceramic containers, with holes in the bottom. Pinguiculas do enjoy a bit of calcium once in a while (but it is not recommended to supplement calcium into already potted Pinguicula), so they can be planted in large shells (that are cleaned to remove traces of salt and other nutrients) such as Abalone shells can be used. Pinguiculas can also be grow in large pieces of Lava Rock filled with sphagnum moss and soil mix. Many varieties can also be grown in steep slopes or sometimes on the walls of terrariums or large rocks. Avoid metal containers, especially galvanized ones, as the metal and chemicals my leach into the water and soil of the plant.

Propagation

Leaf Propagation:

This way of propagation is the easiest, though it only applies to Mexican Pinguiculas (part of the group Tropical Pinguiculas). Leaf "pullings" can be performed year round, but it is best done during winter, while they are "dormant", or spring, when they just wake up from "dormancy". Gently tug and wiggle at the leaves to pull them out from the stem. Be careful to not pull too hard or too many at once, or else the plant may fall apart. For P. moranensis related butterworts, it is best to pull the plant out and to peel the leaves.

After pulling them out, you may place them in a sandy, gritty soil mix, or any other sandy sterile mix that you have the "mother plant" potted in. Another method is placing them straight into a plastic bag, after cleaning the soil off. Make sure to keep them moist but not soggy, and to make sure they aren't rotting or molding. Keep the bag dry with no pooling water, and when they are dry, spritz a little water (pure water, of course). After roots or plantlets form and the mother leaf dies off, you may transplant the butterwort into the same soil mix of the "mother plant".

Seeds:

Pollination:

Pollinating Pinguicula flowers can be quite hard due to the shape of the blooms. It is easiest to pollinate them with a toothpick, simulating the movements of a hummingbird. It is also possible to rip off the top and bottom petals of the bloom, though it is important not to disturb the stem, as if you do, it is highly likely that it will be damaged. Do note that these flowers will not self-pollinate.

Germination:

Pinguicula seeds should be between 15°C to 25°C (60°F to 80°F) to germinate best. The soil should be sterile, but does not matter much. It is best to leave an area of sifted soil or gritty sand on the top few centimeters. Wet the soil. Scatter or place the seeds on top of the medium, do not bury them. To create a humid environment, you can put the pot inside a plastic bag. Please, do not use any form of pesticide or fungicide (natural or synthetic, like cinnamon) on seedlings. It can take from 4 to 8 weeks for seeds to germinate.

Gemmae:

Cold hardy Pinguicula, ones that can stand freezing temperatures (mainly species of the Cold Temperate group), can be propagated by the gemmae formed while they are dormant. These species will produce many gemmae at the base of the winter buds (hibernaculum) during autumn and winter. Some species may produce gemmae under the soil, but most species will produce them above ground.

It is a good practice to remove these gemmae wether you want new plants or not, because in many cases they will die if not removed, once the hibernaculum produces large leaves, which can start rot. This can lead to many bacterial or fungal issues. In habitat, these gemmae can be easily "popped off" by rain or other disturbances, into other areas to grow. In cultivation, it is easiest to dig up the hibernaculum (unless this variety is sensitive to repotting), and to remove the gemmae onto paper or another container. Re-plant them immediately into other soil.

Gemmae are not viable for long, as, unlike seeds, they are already small baby plants. They can be shipped to others after wrapped in wet paper towel or tissue. Gemmae can grow to flowering size within or around only 1 growing season, and many species will produce many at a time. This method of propagation produces clones of the mother plant.

Some popular Butterworts photos:
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