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Pinguicula vulgaris subsp. macroceras

Pinguicula vulgaris
Pinguicula vulgaris

The botanical highlight of a weekend trip to the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park was seeing these plants in the wild for the first time. The second carnivorous plant to be featured on Botany Photo of the Day (if memory serves me correctly), California butterwort or horned butterwort is amphiberingian in its distribution, i.e., it is found on both sides of the Bering Sea. Specifically, the taxon is native to Japan in Asia and northern California to Alaska in North America.

Carnivory is a relatively rare phenomenon in flowering plants, occurring in roughly 0.2% of all taxa. In the case of butterworts, the trap used to capture insects is a “flypaper trap” – a sticky, mucilaginous leaf surface. Imagine trying to walk through glue and you'll have an idea of what the insects encounter. The little black spots on the leaves clearly seen in the first photograph (and artistically out of focus on the second) are insects in various states of being digested. Like most carnivorous plants, Pinguicula vulgaris subsp. macroceras grows in an environment where it is either nutrient-poor or difficult to uptake nutrients, so the evolution of carnivory has given it the ability to source nutrients (especially nitrogen) from elsewhere.

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on carnivorous plants if you'd like to learn more, including a close-up photograph of a Pinguicula leaf surface.

5 Comments

"Specifically, the taxon is native to Japan in Asia and northern California to Alaska in North America"

Presume you're referring to the subspecies macroceras here? – Pinguicula vulgaris (as a species) is holarctic.

Pinguicula vulgaris - Z3 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths

Michael - yes, the subspecies distribution.

Others, however, recognize it as a species. I opted not to write about the taxonomy today, but I'll mention now that if you were to look at local field guides and floras, you'd find a whole suite of names for this plant.

Wow! Thanks so much for this educational tidbit. I've seen various carnivorous plants, but they all digested insects inside the trap, not right out on the main leaves.

The next time I fertilize my plants with something that says you can water it on the leaves to be absorbed as well as pour it on the soil, I'm going to have a whole different picture in my head of what's going on at the leaf surface. (Possibly not an accurate picture, but a whole different picture, nonetheless...)

These are beautiful.

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