Sunday, June 23, 2019

HumBug: Deadly Darlingtonias

Posted By on Sun, Jun 23, 2019 at 10:50 AM

click to enlarge The Bog of Doom off of State Route 199. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The Bog of Doom off of State Route 199.

About two hours north of Eureka on State Route 199, a few miles past Gasquet, a small sign announces “Botanical Trail.” It's a very short drive on a good gravel road to the parking area. A little walk on the well-marked trail puts you in the middle of a Darlingtonia Bog. Here, where soggy conditions and serpentine soil discourage most plants, is the ideal habitat for California's signature carnivorous plant, the cobra plant (Darlingtonia californica), aka California pitcher plant, aka cobra lily. It's not truly a member of Liliaceae.


click to enlarge The author's legally purchased specimen, stunted by a day of drought last year, is recovering. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The author's legally purchased specimen, stunted by a day of drought last year, is recovering.
Carnivorous plants mostly live in such soggy places, supplementing depleted soils with nitrogen by trapping and digesting insects. This uncommon species is noted amongst CP aficionados as difficult to grow, requiring cool roots and plenty of sunshine. They are intolerant of any lapse. Tubular, papery leaves grow up to 2 feet tall and are crowned by a hood freckled with translucent windows. Two reddish flags grow from the underside of the hood, attracting victims through a hole from which they are unlikely to ever escape.
click to enlarge Closeup of a fully developed "hood"; the tongues will redden with sun exposure. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeup of a fully developed "hood"; the tongues will redden with sun exposure.
As of Thursday, June 13, among the brown remains of previous years traps some of this year's light green crop are almost fully developed. As they have for millions of years, every spring they rise form shallow rhizomes to feed on those insects unfortunate enough to be attracted to their charms. For anyone with a taste for the outré, it is worth checking out.
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