Butterworts (Pinguicula)

The butterwort, or Pinguicula is a type of carnivorous plant that catches and digests insects using its sticky leaves. The plant does this to compensate for a lack of nutrients in its native soil.

Butterwort leaves are sticky due to a series of hairs that cover their surface which secrete adhesive droplets. Once an insect finds itself stuck to a leaf, it is quickly encased in the secretions and digested. The Latin name Pinguicula, means “little greasy one” because of the buttery or greasy feel of the leaves.

Dozens of butterwort species and varieties can be found growing all over the world from Canada to the Antarctica. The most diversity is concentrated in Mexico and Central America though. Pinguicula in these locations are often referred to collectively as the Mexican or tropical butterworts.

The butterwort plant was first mentioned in botanical writings in 1479. By 1753, a total of four species had been identified. With the exploration of other continents in the 1800’s, this number rose. However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that nearly half of the currently known species were discovered.

While the conservation status for some butterwort plant species remains secure due to wider habitat ranges, others are threatened because of habitat loss. Most of the temperate butterworts native to the United States are listed as threatened or endangered due to ongoing wetland destruction.