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Pinguicula alpina Linnaeus (1753)






Already in 1753 Pinguicula alpina was described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (after his ennoblement also known as Carl von Linné), the father of modern plant and animal taxonomy, published in his famous work "Species Plantarum". In the original species description only few characters have been cited and the description is very unspecific (Linnaeus' description consists of the following details: conical nectary, short petals, small white flower, short spur). Only the description of the species in Jost Casper's monograph of the genus Pinguicula from 1966 gave for the first time a complete picture of this widespread, but somehow special butterwort species.




P. alpina inhabits regions of the Northern hemisphere. It can be found in subarctic and arctic areas from Scandinavia over Siberia into Northern Kamchatka Peninsula, where plants grow from sea level up to 1100 m above sea level. It inhabits also mountainous areas in Europe (Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians) and in Asia (Himalayas, mountain range of Northern China and Mongolia). In the Himalayas specimen have been found at altitudes of 4100 m a.s.l. Recently P. alpina was also found in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

The species is mainly growing on alkaline soils, but can occur also in more acidic soil types, mainly rich in organic material. Major habitats are seepages or fens in the subarctic or arctic regions, alpine turfs mainly along small creeks or waterlogged pastures (often consiting of a small layer of organic compounds above fewly eroded calcareous soil)  and wet or damp calcareous rocks or outcrops, where plants often grow in mosses.





P. alpina belongs to the temperate heterophyllous growth type. During the cold winter months the plants overwinter as hibernaculum. Often already in early autumn the hibernaculum is formed. In contrast to the other temperate species the yellow-white, fleshy, up to 5 cm long roots do not die over winter. In springtime (depending on the altitude plants are growing) first summer leaves are formed. The summer rosette forms only one set of summer leaves. The summer rosette consists of 5-8 elliptic-oblong to lanceolate-oblong leaves,  that are 2,5 to 4,5 cm (sometimes 6 cm) long and having a pointed to obtuse tip. While at shady locations the margin of the leaves is only moderately involute, at more sunny locations the margin is strongly involute with the margins almost touching. Leaf colour of the upper surface varies between green and rarely red-brown), the lower side of the leaves show an intense brown-red coloration when exposed to direct sunlight. The upper surface is densely covered with glandular hairs.


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Depending on location conditions P. alpina flowers from May until end of August. Per season 1 to 8 flower scapes can be formed per plant. The scape is erect, between 5 and 11 cm long , of a green to red-brown colour and glabrous or covered with only few glandular hairs. For several characters the flower resembles to those of South American butterwort species. The corolla is bilabiate. The petals of the upper lip are of equal size, white, broadly rotund and 2-4 mm long. The 3 lobes of the lower lip differ significantly in form and size with the middle lobe being much larger than the lateral lobes. The middle lobe is longer than broad,  5-7 mm, sometimes even 9 mm in length, bearing a yellow palate in form of 2 humps. The yellow spot can vary significantly in form and size. The white tube has a broad  entrance, is slightly curved,  funnel shaped and about 1 to 1,5 cm long. The inside of the tube is lined with several rows (ventrally and lateral) of white backwards pointing hairs. The outside of the tube is glabrous and covered with parallel running, violet or yellow-brown veins. The conical or funnel shaped spur is short, about 2 to 3 mm long, yellow and then more yellow-browm towards the tip. The seed capsule is typically oblong-obovate to oblong-pear shaped and covered with few glandular hairs. The chromosome number  is 2n = 32.


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A continuous cultivation of P. alpina under central European lowland conditions is only possible outside, as in greenhouses, that are heated to stay frost free over winter, there is a risk that plants start producing summer leaves already in winter when temperatures raise significantly during sunny conditions. Only specimen originated from low altitude populations of Central Europe (about 400-600 m above sea level) that are adapted to more warmer growing conditions seem to tolerate conditions of winter temperatures that do not get lower than 5 °C during night. It is also important to prevent any root disturbances e.g. caused by fungus infection or insects feeding on the roots during dormancy, as then plants often die. Cultivation of plants in organic soil, in mosses or in a coarse limestone-peat mix has shown good results. Also the use of pure vermiculite as substrate is possible. The roots should be watered from above from time to time with water rich in oxygen. As P. alpina does not form daughter buds, the only natural way of propagation is by seeds.