But don’t let its innocent looking flowers fool you! The butterwort may look like a regular garden plant, but it is a carnivorous plant that preys on small, unsuspecting insects!
Its Latin name, meaning “little greasy one” refers to the slightly greasy or buttery feel of the leaves, which grow at the base of the plant in a star-shaped formation. The leaves lay flat on the ground and secrete a sticky substance to attract unsuspecting insects such as, gnats, spring tails and fruit flies.
In some ways, the plant is ruthless. By landing on the leaves, the insect has no way of getting out. As the insect struggles, the digestive enzymes of the plants are released. In some species, the leaves slowly curl around the prey before digesting it. Once the leaves absorb the nitrogen (which is scarce in its habitat), only the indigestible bits remain (i.e tough skin, wings, and feet). The feeding process can take a few hours.
Interestingly, butterworts also produce a strong bactericide, which prevents insects from rotting while they are being digested.
Its insatiable appetite for insects is due to the fact these plants grow in nutrient-poor environments, so they need to feed on something more substantial than sunshine and water.
While butterworts grow abundantly in the wild, they are also widely cultivated by carnivorous plant enthusiasts. Even if you don’t care for their carnivorous ways, the attractive, long lasting flowers are enough reason to grow a butterwort. Some species will produce flowers that can rival the beauty of orchids! Plants are fairly easy to grow and do well in containers.
Fun Facts about the Butterwort:
- In Scandinavia, butterwort is known as sour-milk herb because the leaves were used to curdle goat’s milk to produce a ropy, a yogurt-like cheese.
- For generations, the leaves were applied to the sores of cattle to promote healing.
- Butterworts can survive without insect meals, but they need them in order to pollinate: