Common butterwort – planting, care and tips

Common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)
Common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) - by Bernd Haynold

The common butterwort is hardy and thus one of the few carnivorous plants that can be cultivated outdoors. This is how to plant and care for the unusual perennial.

Profile of common butterwort:

Scientific name: Pinguicula vulgaris

Plant family: bladderwort family (Lentibulariaceae)

Other names: –

Sowing time: autumn

Planting time: spring to autumn

Flowering period: May to August

Location: no direct sun to partially shaded

Soil quality: low in nutrients, toelrates lime

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: pond planting, natural garden, water garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 (-31 °C / -25 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: No

Plant characteristics and classification of common butterwort

Plant order, origin and occurrence of common butterwort

The common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) is a carnivorous plant from the bladderwort family (Lentibulariaceae). The carnivore is native to Europe, but is in many countries on the Red List of Endangered Species. You can also find them in Siberia, large parts of Canada and in the USA. It grows wild in moist to wet moor areas with poor nutrient soils or in alpine heights of around 2,300 meters (7,500 ft). Due to their large distribution area, also in different climatic zones, the members of the genus of butterwort (Pinguicula) are divided into tropical and temperate growth forms. The common butterwort is one of the temperate and is very hardy. It is therefore also suitable for outdoor cultivation in colder regions.

Characteristics of common butterwort


The hardy and perennial common butterwort is characterized by a picturesque growth and pretty flowers. It grows upright and forms lush green leaf rosettes, from which the slender, tall flower stems rise during flowering. In addition to the shoot, the roots also die in autumn and the common butterwort overwinters as a leaf bud, the so-called hibernaculum, from which it will then sprout again in the coming spring.


The leaf rosettes consist of elongated, narrow leaves, which converge into a blunt tip at the front and are mostly rolled up slightly at the leaf margin. The name of the common butterwort is explained by the appearance of the leaf blade: it shines greasy. The leaves are covered with fine glands, which secrete a adhesive decoy secretion, on which small insects, preferably flies, get stuck. As a so-called active adhesive trap, the common butterwort can additionally roll up its leaf edges, so that the trapped insect has no chance of escaping even in the rain. The prey is then decomposed directly on the leaves by digestive enzymes, where small indentations form around the insect for a short time. The process takes only a few days.


The common butterwort has pretty purple, violet-like flowers. They are five-parted and end at 5 to 13 centimeters (2 to 5 in) long, leafless flower stems.

Common butterwort – cultivation and care


To thrive well, the common butterwort needs a sunny to half-shady location. It should be airy and protected from excessive rainfall.

However, if you would like or need to cultivate them in the house or apartment because you do not have a garden, you should offer the carnivorous plant a bright location. But too much sun should be avoided. A half-shaded spot on the windowsill of an east or west window is very pleasant for the butterwort.


The carnivorous plant feels equally at home in acidic, neutral or alkaline soils – provided they are very moist to wet.

The soil that you use for the Pinguicula vulgaris in indoor culture can consist of a commercially available special substrate for carnivores or it can be a mixture of quartz sand and peat. The mixing ratio of the two substrates is 1: 1 and can contain a little bit of clay. The common butterwort feels most comfortable at temperatures between 18 and 30 °C / 64 and 86 °F and a humidity of 60 to 70%.


The roots of the common butterwort are extremely sensitive. The plant should never be planted or relocated during the growth phase in summer, but only between autumn and spring, when it is still in winter rest or is just emerging. This means that in winter it dies down to a solid leaf bud and has no roots – so it can be moved easily. The winter bud should never be fully buried when planting, ideally about half of it sticks out of the ground. The winter bud opens again in spring. New roots are formed, which anchor the common butterwort in the ground and the leaves sprout again.


If you choose a good location, there are no special maintenance measures. In long dry periods, you should water so that the soil does not dry out completely.


  • Always keep the Pinguicula vulgaris moist in summer
  • Avoid waterlogging – otherwise there is a risk of gray mold
  • Always water carefully
  • Use well water or rain water
  • Avoid calcareous tap water
  • If necessary, descale the tap water if no other water is available
  • Watering must be restricted in winter


Carnivorous plants like the common butterwort do not usually need any fertilizer, since the insects that serve the plant as food already contain enough nutrients. In winter, when the insects are rare, the plant takes the necessary nutrients from its thick fleshy leaves.


The common butterwort does not have to be cut, neither the stems, leaves nor the withered flowers.


If you choose a good location, there are no special care measures necessary.


The common butterwort is propagated either by seeds or cuttings.

By cuttings

Pinguicula vulgaris can be propagated very well by leaf cuttings; this happens in autumn:

  • Cut a leaf from an existing plant with a stem
  • Place the moist substrate in a small planter
  • Insert the cuttings so deep that only the leaf is sticking out
  • Spray substrate and cuttings with low-lime water, e.g. rain water
  • Pull a plastic bag over the pot
  • Air every day for 2-3 hours (remove the plastic bag)

Now it takes a few weeks for the cutting to take root. If this happens, it will form new shoots; the plastic bag can now be removed. It is important that both the cutting and the substrate are kept uniformly moist without waterlogging.

The following spring, the freshly grown plants can be planted outdoors or repotted in larger plant pots.

By sowing

Alternatively, the common butterwort can also be propagated by seeds; this also happens in autumn. Seeds can either be taken from the seed pods of existing plants or purchased from specialist retailers:

  • Fill the seed tray with substrate
  • Place the seeds on the soil, only press gently, do not cover with soil (need light to germ)
  • Place the tray in a bright and warm place
  • Keep substrate moist

The first seedlings will appear after a few weeks. Once these have reached a diameter of about 3-5 cm (1.2 to 2 in), they can be pricked out into individual pots. Hhowever, they will not be planted outdoors until next spring.

If, on the other hand, the young plantlets are to be kept as houseplants, they will be repotted in their final planter in spring.

Diseases and pests

Pinguicula vulgaris has a clear advantage over pests: if one or the other parasite tries to colonize the plant, it sticks and is eaten. As a result, pests pose no threat.

However, it is different with diseases: In an unprotected location, a lot of water collects in the leaf rosettes of the common butterwort in case of persistent rain. If it cannot dry quickly enough, the plant tends to gray mold (botrytis).

Such an infection is first shown by brown spots on the leaves. In the advanced stage, both the leaves and the shoot tips become soft. After all, the entire plant is covered with a gray coating, which is very dusty when the parts of the plant are touched.

Affected parts of plants must be removed immediately. If the carnivore is in a planter, it should be repotted into another onr. If it is noted that the roots are already infected, it is better to separate them from the plant.

As a preventative measure, ensure a moderate water supply; Waterlogging must be prevented. Also only the plant substrate should be meant and not the plant itself.


Common butterwort s can withstand winter temperatures down to -31 °C / -25 °F. If this is too uncertain for you, you can also dig out your carnivore, put it in a planter and take it to a winter quarters in the house. With this type of wintering, the following criteria must be observed:

  • Temperatures should be between 5 and 10 ° C / 41 and 50 ° F
  • Water moderately

For Pinguicula vulgaris, which are cultivated in the house all year round, the same regulations apply with regard to wintering.

Contrary to popular belief, the plant does not need to be fertilized even in winter when there are no insects: it feeds on the nutrients stored in its leaves.


Use in the garden

In the garden, the common butterwort is suitable as a hardy plant for moist locations such as pond edges, streams or as an ericaceous plant for bog beds. With its pretty violet flowers, it is an attractive ornamental plant that also has the unusual abilities of a carnivorous plant. It is a special experience for garden visitors to watch how they trap numerous insects.

Use against insects

As already mentioned, the preferred prey for the common butterwort are tiny flies. In professional orchid nurseries, the plant is therefore sometimes used for biological pest control against fungus gnats. If you cultivate them in the house, you can also use them to decimate fungus gnats, but also fruit flies.

Historical use

In earlier times, however, the unusual carnivore was said to have completely different skills. During the Elizabethan era (1558 to 1603) it was believed that it protected pasture cattle from dwarfs and goblins, people from witches and fairies. Until almost the beginning of the 19th century, the leaves were used as a home remedy for lice, in some Scandinavian countries the enzyme-containing plant juice is still used today as a substitute for cheese in cheese making.

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