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Mexican butterworts come in different colors and variants, but most of them look like succulent plants. Is this just an uncanny resemblance or should butterworts be classified as succulents? The answer can be quite complicated but this article will simplify it for you.
Mexican butterworts transform into succulent plants during winter. But butterworts are not typical succulents because they turn back into carnivorous plants at the end of the cold season.
Mexican butterworts, tropical pinguicula and pings are used interchangeably by growers. We will also refer to these plants by these three names throughout this article.
Are Mexican Butterworts Succulents or Carnivorous Plants?
If you take a look at a typical Mexican pinguicula, it is easy to see why some people refer to it as a succulent plant. The resemblance is strong and shares some similar properties as well. However, the term succulent plant is only applicable in a certain period.
Mexican or tropical butterworts turn into non-carnivorous succulents during winter. These leaves grow in rosettes and vary in size. When winter concludes, these leaves are discarded and carnivorous leaves take their place. Mexican butterworts are both succulent and carnivorous plants.
Succulent leaves are thick and can contain water, which some Mexican butterworts do. This means they have the characteristic of a succulent plant. But pinguicula cannot be considered a typical succulent because of their carnivorous traits.
So the answer to the question is yes, Mexican pinguicula is a succulent and carnivorous plant. It is a unique property of these plants and shows how well they adapt to their environment.
Why Mexican Butterworts Turn into Succulents
Tropical butterworts start to grow succulents around November and lasts until March. There is some disagreement on whether to call this a dormancy period at all. Some refer to this as dry dormancy, others as the succulent phase and others just call it dormancy.
Mexican butterworts produce succulent leaves to hold water during winter. Insects and other prey are scarce during this time so the plant discards its carnivorous leaves. By storing water in its leaves the plant can retain moisture even at very low humidity.
There are many types of butterworts, and their approach to winter varies. For more information you can check out this guide on pinguicula dormancy.
- Majority of Mexican and tropical pinguicula form succulent leaves in winter, such as P laxifolia, P gypsicola and P moranensis.
- A few tropical butterworts maintain their carnivorous leaves throughout the year. P gigantea is an example. For this reason this species cannot survive outdoors in harsh winter.
- Temperate butterworts like P lusitanica and P lutea create a hibernacula during winter.
To sum it up, most Mexican butterworts will transform into succulent plants in winter. During this time you have to care for them a bit differently compared to other dormant plants. This should not be surprising as the change is unique. However its requirements are simple and easy to follow.
How to Care for Dormant Mexican Butterworts
While Mexican pinguicula transforms into succulent plants, you have to care for them in a specific manner. Do not think of them as a typical succulent plant because they are not. To ensure the plant grows carnivorous leaves in spring, the environment must be suitable.
You can make things easier by raising Mexican butterworts that grow naturally in your area. Or at least, their natural habitat must be similar to the weather in your location. Check your hardiness zone to get a clear idea of what the climate is in your area and how much adjustment your butterworts have to make.
Mexican pinguicula will grow indoors or outdoors with proper and sufficient light. A sunny windowsill is the best location during its growth phase beginning mid spring. You can also keep butterworts in a greenhouse or terrarium like this one from Elegant Life.
During its succulent phase Mexican butterworts will be fine with little light. You can set up an artificial light and this can help. Do not use harsh or direct lighting because your ping might think winter is over. Emerging early from dormancy should be avoided because it will affect the plant life cycle.
Succulent leaves hold water so once they appear, you can stop watering. Note that some butterworts still prefer lightly damp soil even in dormancy. Most species that grow succulent leaves however, thrive in dry soil during dormancy.
During the growth period, Mexican pinguicula should be watered from the top. At the same time you can use the tray method, but keep the water level low. Unlike Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants, Mexican butterworts can suffer from root rot if immersed in too much water.
For most Mexican butterworts, water from the top during its carnivorous phase, and stop watering when it grows succulents. There are always exceptions to the rule though. P moranensis and P agnata will thrive when the soil is occasionally watered. Others like gypsicola prefer the soil to be totally dry in winter.
Temperature and Humidity
Mexican butterworts need to be in 67-77 F (2–25 C) temperature during dormancy. Other butterworts will do fine in colder temperature if they are native to the area. Some butterworts grow in as low as 25% humidity, but in general it is best to keep it at 50%.
Succulents can handle cold but not below freezing temperatures. If you leave a succulent pinguicula outdoors and it is below freezing, it could kill the plant. Butterworts have varying tolerance levels so it will differ from species to species. This is essential to ensuring your ping grows to its highest potential possible.
Mexican Butterworts Care After Dormancy
Your butterworts will regrow carnivorous leaves around early or mid spring. There is no exact date, but you will notice its succulent leaves get smaller and eventually discarded. As the plant slowly returns to its carnivorous state, you can care for it as before prior to dormancy.
After dormancy, keep your ping in a low to medium humidity area. High humidity often leads to root rot so it should be avoided during this period. If high humidity cannot be avoided, provide good air circulation around the plant.
Some Mexican butterworts can adapt to high humidity provided there is plenty of light. While root rot has to be avoided, you need to keep the roots moist for the plant to grow. The key here is proper moistening of the soil.
In general, humidity is not much of a problem if the plant is in a healthy environment. With enough light, water, the right soil mix and nutrition, your butterworts will emerge from dormancy fine.
Water and Soil
Do not use tap water because it can burn the leaves and roots. Pure water or rain water will provide these plants with what they need.
If you have to repot the plant after dormancy, use sphagnum moss and sand or perlite and peat moss. Either of the two combinations will be fine. Keep the mixture at 50/50 and ensure they are thoroughly mixed.
It is normal for newly repotted plants to refuse eating for a few days. Pinguicula needs time to get used to its new container and soil. Give it some time and your ping will resume feeding.
Natural and Artificial Light
After its succulent phase or dry dormancy, slowly increase its exposure to light. Majority of Mexican pings prefer moderate to bright light. However they are vulnerable to intense heat from the midday sun. If your plant is sitting on an open window, move it back a bit and give shade during the hottest part of the day.
You can also use GE Grow LED Light Bulbs during its growth or after dormancy period. Position the light at least a foot away from your pinguicula. The further the light, the higher the wattage should be. Do not expose the plant to direct lighting for prolonged periods.
Mexican butterworts are easier to care for than you may realize. A lot of the difficulty arises when the plant is not in the right environment, particularly during winter. But grown in the proper location and your pinguicula will flourish.
My fascination with carnivorous plants began many, many years ago with Venus Fly Traps. Now I am more than happy to impart what I know with other enthusiasts and those who are curious about meat eating plants.