Butterworts and Sundews – Insectivorous Plants in the Alps

Butterwort flower

One of the most exciting aspects of looking at alpine flora is the close relationship with insects. In our mountain meadows you can see colourful butterflies and buzzing honey bees frolicking around from flower to flower. Sometimes the relationship between a flower and its pollinating insect is so close that the two are completely adapted to each other, but things are not always friendly between insects and plants….

A Butterwort: An insect trap

The alpine butterwort (Pinguicula alpina) attracts small insects with a sweet substance on its light green leaves. However, it’s a trap: as soon as the small insects land on the attractive leaves, they get stuck to the same sticky substance which attracted them in the first place. butterworts are carnivorous which allows the plant to supplement its diet with the nutrients that are released during the digestion of the trapped insects. That’s why alpine butterworts can grow well on poor soils.

Butterwort leaves
Lots of small insects are trapped on a sticky leave of an insectivorous alpine butterwort. Photo credit: Simone van Velzen

Sundew plants

Alpine butterworts are not the only insectivorous plants that you can find during your hiking trip in the Alps. You might also see some common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) with small purple flowers. Other carnivorous species that thrive in the Alps are round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and long-leaved sundew (Drosera longifolia). These species catch insects with their red, sticky tentacles. When small animals get stuck, the sundew’s leaf rolls itself around the prey to digest it.

Drosera flower
When small insects get trapped on a Sundew flower, the red tentacles on its leaves will move towards the prey. Photocredit: Simone van Velzen

Spotting carnivorous plants

Sundews as well as butterworts love boggy areas which are low in nutrients, so look for them in moist patches right next to your path while trekking through the Alps. If your Tour du Mont Blanc trip takes you over the Col the Montets, keep your eyes peeled when you’re close to the Nature Information Centre: both sundew and butterwort thrive there!   

More about flora in the Alps:


Simone van Velzen

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