The Cobra Plant

Latin Name: Darlingtonia californica

Common Name: California pitcher plant, cobra plant, cobra lily

Range: Northern tip of California and eastern Oregon.  Predominately from the Cascade Mountains, but is found all the way down to sea level.  Commonly found in spaghnum and peat bogs that have continuously soaking water, but is also found outside these bogs in very wet soil.  To an elevation of about 2,600 metres

Flowering period: April through August, dependent on altitude.  The single bloom is borne on a long scape that has several bracts spaced along it.  These bracts are variably coloured.  From red, through pink, to pale yellow-green.  The sepals are usually pale green, long and pointed downward as the drooping flower opens.  The petals themselves are usually dark red/crimson and always meet in the middle, enclosing the large bell-shaped ovary and the shorter stamens that ring the base of it.

Pitchers: This plant is of the genus Sarraceniacea and as such shares many of the attributes of the more common American pitchers.  The new leaves start off the same as the other Sarracenias i.e.. facing the centre of the plant.  However, as they mature, the leaf twists and ends up with the trap opening facing outwards.  The top of the highly developed pitcher (which could be anywhere from 4-30" on a mature plant) bends over at the top to form a dome-like structure.  The opening of the pitfall trap actually faces downwards.  On the rear of the stem opposite the mouth, are numerous small 'light windows'.  There is also an extension emanating from in front of the opening reminiscent of a fish tail.  This seems to be an adaptation to increase the chances of luring insects into the opening.  These have many tiny nectar glands situated on it that are very effective at luring insect prey.  There are a lot of downward pointing, stiff, hair-like appendages that offer any insect that succumbs no avenue of escape through climbing up.
The 'light windows' are thought to offer flying insects the chance of escape.  Thus, they would eventually tire whilst trying to fly out of these obvious 'exit holes'.  They would fall into the water-filled pitcher, to be consumed by bacteria living in the water.  The freeing of minerals and nutrients caused by the bacterial action is absorbed by the plant.

Cultivation: Darlingtonia require a cool root run.  They also require drainage.  Spaghnum to retain water and perlite to provide air to the root is a very good mix (mix in a 1 for 1 ratio).  A method of keeping the roots cool in a hot climate is to utilise a foam box system.  A hole is cut in the lid, just too small for the pot to pass through.  It is thus held up off the bottom of the container, and cool pure water is added.  A freezer brick can be placed in the water in the foam box on hot days to cool the roots down.  On very hot days, ice cubes of pure water can also be placed on the growing medium surface to melt and cool down the upper part of the roots as well.  Whilst there is ample water provided this way, it is essential to continue to water these plants from above, thus flushing their roots.

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