May Cactus Patch

The Cactus Patch

May 2020

Pinguicula, The Part-Time Succulent

by Stephen Cooley


Pinguicula is a genus of small carnivorous plants that occur mostly in the Northern Hemisphere ranging from Mexico to  near the arctic.  Their leaves have short hairs on them that trap small insects which are then ‘digested’ by secretions of acids and enzymes.  As with many carnivorous plants they occur in situations where nutrients are scarce.  Pinguicula go by the common name Butterwort though collectors call them Pings. 

During their growing season Butterworts have flat, soft leaves that are not very succulent.  These are the leaves that capture the prey.  The flowers are quite pretty, resembling a violet flower, and can be white, pink, red, yellow or purple.  Butterwort is not a large plant, the rosettes being just 1 to  4 inches in diameter. 
Dormancy occurs due to cold weather for most of the Butterworts.  These plants overwinter as small buds and wait for Spring.  Some tropical Butterworts of Mexico have a different strategy.  Their dormancy also occurs in winter, but they go dormant because winter is the dry season. These Butterworts produce small succulent leaves that store water for the dry period.  These leaves do not catch insects.  At this stage the Pinguicula looks like a miniature Aeonium or Echeveria.

For the most part Butterworts are easy to grow.  They do well in brightly lit indoor situations where they will flower all summer.  As with many carnivorous plants they require ‘swampy’ conditions.  They should be grown in moss or peat or sand or a mix of these things and kept wet to soggy.  Distilled water is best as they do not tolerate minerals or fertilizers well. Small amounts of fertilizer can be given very sparingly.  During dormancy they are kept only slightly moist.  They will not tolerate full sun.

As for acquiring a Butterwort there are many online carnivorous plant sellers, but be prepared to play a hefty price for a very small plant.  I have also seen Pinguicula included in the tray of carnivorous plants that you sometimes find at Lowes or Home Depot.  These are the plants in the little domed containers.  Usually they are Venus fly traps but sometimes you will find Temperate Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia), Tropical Pitcher plants (Nepenthes), Sundews (Drosera) and Butterworts.

President’s Message - May

 As we are all faced with the challenge of doing our part to stop the spread of the infamous coronavirus (COVID-19),  I know many of us are feeling anxious and concerned about what the future holds.  There is a lot of confusion in the news these days and as we try to get through these unprecedented times, it’s healthy to move away from the TV screens or the news feed on our smart phones to shift our focus on activities that can help keep our minds occasionally distracted.

About two weeks ago, my brother and I decided we needed to get away.  We decided to  drive to Palm Springs to enjoy a hike in the desert.  Unsure which trail we should explore, we decided to use one of the phone apps recommended for hikers and that’s how we decided we would hike the South Lykken Trail which was rated as having a moderate incline level  with a length of 7.3-miles.  The trailhead signs were very confusing, to say the least, but after reading through every detail and recommendation we were glad to know the trails remain open to hikers (who live in the same household), although the parking lots remain closed.  One of the flyers did mention the trails are closed to large groups. 

The time was approximately 2:00 p.m. when we started our hike, the desert heat was beating down on us, yet the wind was blowing strong across the San Jacinto Mountains cooling our bodies just enough to keep us trekking.  I’d say it was no more than 2000 feet up the trail when we spotted a herd of bighorn sheep cutting across the rocky terrain.  We had to stop and catch our breath for a quick moment in that relentless heat.  Once we stood there admiring the view, we spotted five female bighorns camouflaging perfectly against the dry grasses even as they stampeded down and across from us.  Certainly, an amazing experience we will remember.
As we continued our hike, I couldn’t stop admiring every grass, flower and rock, we felt so grateful to be alive and hiking those desert mountains.  The landscape was so magnificently dappled with patches of blooming Ferocactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Opuntia (Opuntia Basilaris), and Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  These plants I mention were some of the most noticeable due to their sheer size and color, but there’s so much plant diversity out there I wish I could identify.  Regardless, it was great to be on a hike and witness our spring season in full swing everywhere.
Some of you might remember we were planning a few club fieldtrips this year.  Unfortunately, the coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill.  As a result, the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens also closed their doors to their museum halls and art collections, including the gardens shortly after the shelter in place was announced.  Well I have great news for you, we can still visit this amazing place! I want you to know that you can virtually visit the gardens and art collections through the SoundCloud app if you download the app on your smart phone and do a search for the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.  Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed listening to a few lectures and talks that were hosted in the evenings at the Huntington.  There is a plethora of talks and lectures I’m certain some of you will find interesting.    If you decide to listen in, I’m sure you will be inspired! 
One final announcement before I go, if you have a plant blooming or soon to bloom get your camera out and take some pictures so we may share them with our members in our next month’s newsletter.  It would be helpful if you knew the name of the plant, but if you don’t, that’s okay too.  This would be the perfect time to showcase some of the great plants we keep in our collections!  Until next time, be well, stay safe and keep on gardening! Lastly, I want to remind everyone that nature is happening all around us, every minute, every hour, every day. We should all take this time to reflect on our lives and redirect our attention to the things that matter most. I invite you to take a deep breath in the middle of this pandemic chaos, take a sip of your favorite drink, and enjoy nature’s ever-changing beauty from the comfort of your home. So many plants are blooming during this time a year and it’s time to get a closer view!

For now, social media platforms are an excellent way to stay connected with plant experts and aficionados around the globe while maintaining our social distancing.  The weeds in my backyard have been growing beyond my control, but with the recommendation to practice social distancing, this project doesn’t seem too daunting after all.  Happy gardening to everyone, I leave you for now, until next month, stay safe and be well.

-Luis de la Torre

From all of us, stay healthy and stay safe. While facing these uncertain times while alone together, don't forget to reach out to your friends and family via phone and email. Don't miss out on time to connect and love one another!