Cobra Lily

"Feed me feed me!"

-Little Shop of Horrors,


The cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica) is the North American west coast's version of the Sarracenia species pitcher plants that grow in the east, southeast, & gulf coast. Darlingtonia fills much the same ecological niche in bogs on mountains of Southern Oregon & Northern California. The genus is named after Pennsylvania botanist, physician, soldier & politician Dr. William Darlington (1782-1863).

It's not easily confused with eastern pitcher-plants because instead of a lid or tongue hanging over the tube, this one really does look like a cobra's head. It is not so susceptible to cold spells as are the Sarracenias, & is a cinch to grow just so long as it gets a great deal of sunlight & the ground never dries out at any time of the year.

Cobra We are members of the nearby Bloedel Reserve Gardens, where there's a semi-wild bog with a crooked bridge that crosses above the muck. Along one stretch, on both sides of the bridge, the soggy ground is simply crowded with enormous Cobra Lilies, more than sufficient evidence for how suited they are for our area. Our personal specimen is very humble by comparison, but not less thrilling for us to observe.

In our small carnivore bog, the cobra lily has sent out tendrils with new tiny cobras popping up all around. It proved to be very much more aggressive than the other plants initially planted in the same sunken bog container.

This bog was completely destroyed by a racoon in 2002, & while three species of Sarracenia had a hard time regaining their beauty & health, the Cobra bounced back no worse for wear. It seemed increasingly likely it would eventually displace the more fragile Sarracenias altogether, so in 2003 I moved them to a second sunken bog garden.

CobraThe Cobra's bog consists of a buried black plastic tub, with a rather sterile planting medium half rough sand & half peat, for pitchers & cobras dislike fertile soil. The first year the surface of the bog looked sandy, but it was later quite mossy. I pealed a piece of very-very short moss from a full-sun location (yes, there are mosses that prefer lots of sunlight), & laid this over the mini-bog where it took hold & spread.

The first photo was snapped in March 2003. Despite the damage the racoon had done to it the previous year, it returned very forcefully. If you look close you can see a large March flower bud. This bud slowly lifts itself on a high stem, as shown in the second photo in mid April. The third photo is a close up of the flower at its "lantern" stage at April's end, when it has the appearance of a fritillary on steroids.

I've read a couple articles that seriously underestimate the charm & beauty of the flowers on pitcher plants & cobra lilies, but that's because to some extent carnivorous plants are grown by bucktooth geeks who get a charge out of feeding them flies. Fact is, Darlingtonia's blossom is so amazing that if the rest of the plant were less exciting, this would still be grown for the flower.

The Cobra continues to produce more & more hooded tubular leaves all summer & into autumn. When a particular cobra-leaf is thickly cluttered with sowbugs & beetles, the leaf begins to fade, & I trim worn-out bits away to make room for the new cobras that are quick to arrive.

The main plant occasionally sends a tendril creeping along the surface of the sandy soil, & starts a miniature duplicate of itself a sort distance away. It obviously will eventually fill the entire sunken container, & just as obviously these smaller Cobra Lilies could be clipped off the tendril & very easily planted elsewhere.

Continue to:
Sarracenia purpurea venosa,
Veined Purple Pitcher Plant


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