Common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)

Also known as: bog violet, butter-plant, marsh violet
GenusPinguicula (1)
SizeLeaf length: 2-8 cm (2)

Not threatened (3).

Butterwort is an insectivorous plant. It produces bright purple flowers that have earned the species the alternative names of bog violet and marsh violet (4). The bright yellowish-green leaves feature numerous glands that secrete a sticky fluid which attracts insects. When the insects become trapped, the leaf slowly curls inwards and eventually the insect will be digested (5). The species is known as butterwort as it was thought to have magical properties and the juices from the leaves were rubbed onto cows’ udders in order to protect the milk (and resulting butter) from evil influences (4).

This species is fairly common throughout much of Britain, with the exception of central and southern England where it becomes rare and is even absent from several counties (2). In these areas, the species has declined by a worrying 50% since 1930, but many of its sites were lost before the nineteenth century (3).

Found in nutrient-poor damp habitats, including bogs, fens, wet heaths and in rock crevices (2) (3).

Common butterwort is a perennial plant that spends the winter as a dormant rootless bud (2). The habitats in which it occurs are so poor in nutrients that the evolutionary adaptation of feeding on insects has developed. Other plants living in such habitats, such as sundews, have also developed this trait.

The decline of this species is due to the widespread loss and drainage of the wet habitats in which it occurs. Agricultural intensification is also to blame, and the decline of common butterwort is continuing today (3).

Conservation action has not been targeted at this species.

For more on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2004):
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G., and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles- 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing, Ltd., Oxford.
  5. Weber, L. Plants that eat animals (January 2004):