Love succulents and want to try carnivorous plants? Mexican butterworts are easier than you think!

Mexican Butterwort. Pinguicula 'Sethos'.
Pinguicula “Sethos”

Many Mexican butterworts look similar to echeveria-esque succulents and actually become succulents in the winter! These butterworts (or Pinguicula or “pings”) require slightly different conditions than most carnivorous plants, but are still easy once you know what those are. Once you know the proper Mexican butterwort care, they can thrive on windowsills, terrariums, or even outdoors in a variety of containers all year round.

Soil basics

Mexican butterworts prefer more alkaline soil conditions than most other carnivorous plants. This also allows them to be more tolerant of minerals, though I still recommend watering them with distilled, rain, or reverse osmosis water. Many growers have successfully potted them in unglazed terracotta planters and in media with little to no peat. Here are some examples of soil mixes I’ve seen:

  • Pure perlite
  • Perlite with a bit of limestone power and/or  crushed egg shells
  • Perlite, lava rock, sand, and just a bit of peat moss
  • Perlite, vermiculite, sand, pumice, and peat moss

If you search online, you’ll fine many more simple and complex Pinguicula mixes. Essentially you want an airy, well-draining mix. You may have to experiment a bit and decide what’s right for you. I’ve found that keeping the media just moist to slightly dry works best. Tray water is also recommended to prevent leaf scorching (read about scorching below).

Light basics

Mexican butterworts will grow happily in a variety of light conditions. With more direct light, many will turn colors like pink or purple! However, they should be acclimated slowly to full light. Also if top-watering, be careful to not get leaves wet. Direct sunlight and wet leaves can result in scorching, basically burning the leaves on the plant. Partial and indirect sun is a good balance for most butterworts. My pings get 2-4 hours of direct sun, and indirect/dappled sun for the rest of the day.

Mexican butterwort, Pinguicula cyclosecta.
P. cyclosecta with a purple tint from bright light.

If keeping butterworts indoors, a sunny south or east facing windowsill will provide plenty enough light for happy pings!

Planter basics

Pings tend to have short roots and don’t need very deep containers. You can plant a bunch in a shallow bowl or abalone shell, as long as they have holes for drainage. I’ve put some of mine in small tea cups after drilling holes for drainage. You can probably guess I have a thing for tea cups. 

Carnivorous Mexican butterwort. Pinguicula moranensis J
My P. moranensis J in a small Japanese-style tea cup.

Something I’m seeing recently is growing Mexican butterworts in large porous rocks. Find a rock with a few craters and stuff some long-fibered sphagnum in one of the craters, then snuggle the butterwort into there. Keep the whole rock sitting in water, and voila! I have not done this, but the first thing I’d do is rinse the rock with distilled water a few times, just in case it’s got lots of mineral build up on it.

Propagation is easy too! 

Like many succulents, Mexican butterworts are easily propagated via leaf pullings. I took my first leaf pulling of P. ‘Sethos’ and P. esseriana successfully! You can simply lay the leaf on top of the soil, or partially cover the tip with soil to help anchor the little roots when they start to grow. Keep the soil pretty dry, or else they will rot from being too wet. You should see plantlets fairly quickly, about 1-2 months after pulling.

Propagate Pinguicula from leaf pullings just like succulents!
Pinguicula “Sethos” plantlets from a leaf pulling.

Even with some mistreatment, many species are very forgiving! Repotting doesn’t seem to set them back at all. You can pull several leaves off and they don’t seem to notice. When I was initially repotting and taking leaf pullings, I man-handled (woman-handled?) my P. esseriana and pulled off way more leaves than I intended! The same plant also got beat up pretty badly from heavy rainfall weeks later, but keeps growing new leaves like it never happened! However, my P. gracilis and P. pirouette plantlets unfortunately did not take the rain-beatings well and eventually rotted. You live and learn, right?

Pinguicula esseriana growing new leaves.
P. esseriana growing new leaves like a champ.

Dormancy (Succulent Phase) 

In the winter, Mexican butterworts go through a succulent phase. This is generally from November to March in the northern hemisphere. Instead of carnivorous leaves, they will grow shorter, succulent leaves to store water for a dry winter. During this phase, you can gradually slow down on watering. Some growers do not water their butterworts at all during the winter, others keep them just barely moist.

Be very careful not to over-water, as this can lead to rotting and the death of your plant. Your safest bet is waiting until the soil feels dry before watering. See this post to see more photos of dormant pings. 

Pinguicula esseriana, an easy-growing Mexican butterwort. (carnivorous plant)
P. esseriana in succulent phase. You can tell the difference between the lower, carnivorous leaves with the curled edge, and the “fatter” succulent leaves on top.

In the spring, when light levels increase again, slowly start to water your butterworts more frequently. If you’re repotting them, it’s a good time to take a few leaf pullings! Succulent leaves are said to have the best strike rate, but I’ve seen success with carnivorous leaves as well!

If you’re a succulent-lover that’s come to the carnivorous side, my work is complete! 😀 Ready for that special ping in your life? Cascade Carnivores is nursery that specializes in butterworts. There are also a few available at my favorite place in the world, California Carnivores.

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Thanks for reading! I’d love to know what you think of this post on Mexican butterwort care! Leave any questions or feedback for me in a comment below!

5 comments

  1. Angelo says:

    Hello Maria!
    I would be really thankful if you would do a Cephalotus post. Mine isn’t doing so well…
    I read you from Buenos Aires!

    • Maria says:

      Hi Angelo, thanks for reading!

      Unfortunately, my Cephalotus also isn’t doing too well. 🙁 So I don’t write about it much. I’m hoping it grows better eventually and I can write about it, but I am definitely not a cephalotus expert!

      • Angelo says:

        Now, Im being really carefull with watering, I putted a bowl to keep it’s humidity high, I think that my problem it’s the luck of light…

  2. Rich says:

    Great post! I have 2 pings and haven’t had much luck with them. But this article gave me ideas of things to change.

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