Pinguicula grandiflora flowers.
Pinguicula is a genus of most-uncarnivorous-looking, yet quite carnivorous plants. The basic architectural plan of most species in the genus is that of a little ground-hugging rosette of succulent leaves. Often the leaves have a glossy, pearly, opalescent character to them. Flowers—often spectacularly pretty—are produced from the center of the rosette, and nod singly from the top of tall, tender stalks. How can this sweet little thing be a carnivore?
Their arthropodicidal nature becomes clear only when you look very closely at the leaves. For there, adhering to the glandular surface of the leaf, are countless tiny little gnats and other minute arthropods. They are not only stuck to the leaf, they are drowned in moist pools of slime, and are indeed being digested. How horrible!
The details are terrifying. Pinguicula leaves sometimes emit a faintly fungal scent, perhaps to attract prey. The leaf surfaces have two types of glands: stalked and sessile. The stalked glands are always ready to capture prey, by means of the sticky droplet of goo that sits on its top. The stalked gland sits on top of a reservoir cell that is filled with digestive enzymes. When stimulated, the reservoir cell dumps its contents through the stalked gland, covering the captured prey. This does not happen fast enough to help capture the prey, but it does improve the digestion. The sessile glands also release fluid that is loaded with digestive enzymes, possibly doing the bulk of the digestion. The reservoir cells in the sessile glands do not recharge—once they exude their digestive fluids, they are no longer operative.
Using this powerful set of tools, these plants often manage to capture surprisingly large prey. I have seen plants in the wild covered with large flies (nearly 1 cm in length) or even craneflies (Tipulidae).
Because of their somewhat slimy leaves, the plants were given the name Pinguicula by Linnaeus, which translates to "little greasy one." Coincidentally, I had a similar nickname in gradeschool. The most frequently used common name for this plant in English is "butterwort", although aficionados of the genus affectionately call them "pings." (That is the name you should use if you want to sound cool, like you have been growing the plants for a million years.)
Read more about Pinguicula at the ICPS sarracenia.com FAQ
-- Barry Rice
Pinguicula information on the ICPS carnivorousplants.org web site:
Registered Cultivar Names
Pinguicula Leaf Pullings
Cold temperate Pinguicula
Warm temperate Pinguicula
Pinguicula information in the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter:
Casper, S. Jost (2002) Conrad Gessner and Pinguicula - a nearly forgotten aspect of the pre-Linnean History of Lentibulariaceae and Pinguicula L.. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 31(1):10-13 (
Mrkvicka, Alexander (1990) European Pinguicula species taxonomy - distribution - cultural conditions. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 19(1-2):41-43 (
Lamb, Randy (1991) Pinguicula villosa: The northern butterwort. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 20(3):73-77 (
Schnell, Donald (1983) A Photographic Primer of the Pinguiculas of the Southeastern United States. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 12(2):41-44 (
Powell, Charles L. (1987) Mexican Pings. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 16(4):106-110 (
Beckstrom, Marc (1979) A Search for Mexican Pinguiculas. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 8(2):55-57 (
Lau, Alfred B. (1993) The discovery of a new Pinguicula from Ayautla, Oaxaca, Mexico. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 22(1-2):26-27 (
Wix, Lloyd (1998) Pinguicula emarginata -- a variable and distinctive Mexican species. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 27(4):121-123 (
Studnicka, Miloslav (2001) New Observations of leaf movements in Pinguicula (Lentibulariaceae). Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 30(2):51-54 (
Search the CPN Index and Archive for over 150 articles about Pinguicula.