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How to Care for Mexican Pinguicula



Mexican Pinguicula, known commonly as butterworts, are fascinating carnivorous plants. Typically they are small rosette plants with greasy leaves, covered in sticky glands in order to capture prey. Due to their minute glands, they often only capture fruit flies, fungus gnats as well as other tiny insects of similar size. Pinguicula have a thin and shallow root system which is used to anchor the plant to it’s media.

As their name suggests, Mexican Pinguicula are commonly found in Mexico at high elevations, they often encounter warm and wet summers with dry and sometimes chilly nights in winter. There are more butterworts found in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, they come in a diverse range of colours and have some unique and beautiful leaf shapes, although most are flat, there are several which are upright in leaf structure.

Pinguicula, or ‘Pings’ as they are commonly referred to by carnivorous plant growers, have some of the most spectacular flowers, especially tropical forms which have stunning colour and shapes. Often, the easiest way to identify a Pinguicula is via it’s flower due to the various species known. The flower stalks are also covered in sticky glands and are able to capture prey in order to provide the plants with greater opportunities for nutrient gain via prey capture.

From left to right: Pinguicula 'Cyclosecta' flowers, Pinguicula flower just before opening, Pinguicula 'Tina' flowers.


These plants are a great starter for new carnivorous plant growers and even houseplant growers. They are also amazing plants to keep for collectors who wish to build a large collection of a particular genus of carnivorous plant.

Lighting:


Most Pinguicula do well in a partially sunny position or in a brightly lit spot. They do not like to be sat in hot, strong direct like that can cook them especially in summer.

They are often good candidates for terrariums and tanks under grow lights, I have seen many growers make stunning Pinguicula landscapes within tanks, full of vibrant colours under grow lights.

My Pinguicula plant stand (Left) as well as Pings in the morning sunlight


Watering:


During the active growing season, when the plants have carnivorous leaves, use the tray method in order to water plants. Keep plants in a shallow tray of water and top up when the tray is empty. Make sure to use only distilled, reverse osmosis (RO) or rain water.

During the winter and cooler season your plants may require less watering during their “dormant” stage, see below at ‘Dormancy’

You may find that none or only some of your plants resort to a succulent stage during this time and continue producing carnivorous leaves. If so, continue to water the plants as normal. If you have them placed in a cooler spot or a draughty windowsill you may find the plant does not dry out as quick and therefore you may want to reduce watering so it is just damp to avoid over-watering and rot.

Dormancy:


During the winter season, some species of Mexican Pinguicula will resort to a ‘succulent stage’. This is when the plant produces non-carnivorous leaves in a tight formation, this is in order to tolerate the drought they often face in their natural habitat during winter. During this time, just keep the plants damp and do not water as frequently, you do not want them to dry out completely during this time however. You may find that some or none of your plants will do this however.

From left to right: Pinguicula 'Cyclosecta', Pinguicula 'Yucca do' and Pinguicula 'ehlersiae' in their succulent state during winter


The plants will then often flower during this stage in early Spring before they produce carnivorous leaves again, giving you spectacular blooms during the plain stage of the
season.

A selection of my Pinguicula in flower during winter and spring.


Media:


Mexican Pinguicula prefer a well draining mix yet are not limited to a particular carnivorous plant mix, I have seen and heard growers use a range of mediums to grow Pinguicula. As well as this there are many peat free mixes which can be used for Pinguicula.

My chosen Pinguicula media is a mixture of sharp sand, perlite and peat in a ratio of 2:2:1. I also grow Pings in sphagnum moss when taking leaf pullings and potting new plants up in order to maintain moisture.

The pot should be larger than the plant in diameter but due to their shallow root system the pots do not need to be very deep, but make sure to allow root penetration. Shallow bowls and planters are often good candidates for Pinguicula pots.

From left to right: A Pinguicula shallow bowl planter, Pinguicula 'weser' in a square 7cm pot and a selection of my smaller Pings in 6cm pots which are good for utilizing space.


Pinguicula mixes can include any of the following:
  • Peat

  • Sand

  • Grit

  • Perlite

  • Pumice

  • Lava rock

  • Turface

Larger pieces of lava rock and pumice can be used and planted on directly. The rocks wick water from a tray and plants can be placed in the large pores of the rock or you can also drill larger holes if desired. Leaf pullings can also be taken and started on the surface of these rocks. Planting onto rocks is becoming ever more popular amongst growers in the hobby and many creative and beautiful designs can be constructed.

My first 'Ping Rock' using lava rock from an aquatic store (Left), small Pinguicula rooting onto small chunks of lava rock in my shallow Ping planter.


See how I made my 'Ping rock' here

Feeding:


Pinguicula will often feast on small flies such as fruit flies or gnats. If you want to feed your plant during the growing season you can use flightless fruit flies, small ants or dried insects can also be used such freeze dried blood-worms. Make sure however that you are not adding too much feed to the leaves as this can cause leaf burns and damage the plant.

The small sticky glands on the surface of a Pinguicula leaf under a macro lens (Left), fruit flies stuck to the leaf of a Pinguicula (right).


Propagation:


Leaf pullings are the easiest and quickest method to propagate Pinguicula, often giving you multiple clones of the plant at a time, allowing you to build up a collection quickly. This is done by gently pulling the whole leaf from the plant and placing onto damp media.


See my blog on 'How to Propagate Mexican Pinguicula from Leaf Pullings here

A selection of images from the stages of taking leaf pullings, from taking the leaves, the first strikes and then to developed plants.


Plants over the cooler period will often divide into multiple plants, these can then be divided and potted up into your chosen media.

A selection of Pinguicula which divided during the winter period.


You can also grow Mexican Pinguicula from seed however this method can be tricky if you are trying to get seed from your own plants because they will need to be pollinated with the exceptions of P. villosa and P. lustanica which self-pollinate. If purchasing seed, then it needs to be preferably fresh, you will get better results with fresh seeds. Seed can be stored in the fridge for a few months.

A close up on the structure of Pinguicula flowers


Best plants to start with:


There are loads of species of Mexican Pinguicula that you can chose from and even start with, the following are nice species which are commonly found in most garden centres, nurseries or often sold by growers and can be easy to find without a large cost.
  • Pinguicula 'Tina'

  • Pinguicula 'Weser'

  • Pinguicula 'cyclosecta'

  • Pinguicula 'esseriana'

  • Pinguicula 'guatemala'

  • Pinguicula 'moranensis'


Left to right: P. 'Tina', P. 'weser', P. 'cyclosecta' and P. 'esseriana'


More Pinguicula snaps from my collection:

My Pings spend most of the year on a large plant stand in front of a window which gets morning light, in the summer I will often move them to the greenhouse on my lower benches this often brings out a little more of their colour and avoids the heat of inside during hot summer days.



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