Carnivorous Plants: Butterwort

Today, I want to introduce you to the butterwort (Pinguicula)!

The butterwort is considered an active flypaper because it has sticky leaves that catch animals* and move to curl around them.

At the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, the butterworts are teeny tiny. 

Butterwort from February 11

On February 11, the first butterwort I saw measured 1-2 inches wide and had a flower stem measuring perhaps seven inches.  On February 19, I saw two plants, measuring a half an inch, and one had a flower stem no taller than half an inch.  Cuties!

The first time that I went to the botanical center I didn’t even notice the butterworts.

Butterwort with a flower stem less than half an inch

Butterworts demand that I slow down and look.

They draw me into a subtle splendor that I would otherwise pass by.

Hello, butterwort!

This amazing plant has leaves that move

First, the plant catches animals on its sticky leaves. 

Then the curling leaves of the butterwort encircle large stuck animals. Over the course of two days, the leaf slowly moves over the animal to increase contact with the prey and therefore speed up digestion. The curled leaf also secures the prey and its juices, preventing them from being washed away in the rain.

This movement may not occur during the catching of small prey.

The butterwort grows as a perennial flower.
However, it’s not an average perennial flower.

Each fall, most species of butterworts die back into a winter resting bud.

Interestingly, some winter resting buds remain firmly rooted to the ground while others detach completely!  These detached buds become loose discs that animals or water can move.  These mobile buds empower the plant to easily move to a new location.  When spring comes, the buds put down roots again.

Hello, free transportation! Hello, new home!

A butterwort dying back

Butterwort species that do not produce winter resting buds are often found in warmer climates.  These butterworts retain leaves throughout the year. Some of these species retain the same leaves throughout the year and some of these grow special leaves for wintertime.

Butterwort invites us to pay attention to miniature majesty, yes.

However, it is worth noting that one species of butterwort – Pinguicula gigantea – can grow to be 12 inches across.  Sizes vary but butterworts are secret keepers, all of them.

It is not yet known how the butterwort attracts prey to its leaves.

A mystery yet to be revealed by this plant of subtle splendor.


*The animal kingdom includes vertabrates and inverabrates like insects. Since carnivorous plants have been known to eat a variety of vertabrates and invertabrates, animal is the generic term used for the prey of carnivorous plants.

I learned about the butterwort from the book Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack.

I took these pictures at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.

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