Darlingtonia californica

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 Darlingtonia californica subsp. var.  California Pitcher plant, Cobra Lily, or Cobra Plant
Darlingtonia californica ne1.JPG
Habit: herbaceous
Height: to
Width: to
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Lifespan: perennial
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USDA Zones: to
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Sarraceniaceae > Darlingtonia californica var. ,

California Pitcher plant

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Darlingtonia (after William Darlington, of West Chester, Pa., author of "Memorials of John Bartram and Humphrey Marshall," and of "Florula Cestrica.") Sarraceniaceae. A monotypic genus of American pitcher-plants which, apart from their striking aspect and beautiful coloring, have acquired celebrity from their insectivorous habits.

The short rhizomes grow in fine muddy soil, and produce annually a terminal rosette of Lvs., all of which are modified into upright pitchers: each pitchered If. is 3-30 in. long by ½-3 in. wide, is somewhat spirally twisted, hollow throughout and with a median crest or flap in front; the tube represents the hollowed lf.- midrib, the flap is formed by the fused halves of the If. that have united by their upper faces in front of the midrib; the top part of the tube curves over in rounded fashion to form a down-directed pitcher orifice, from which depends a bilobed unusually crimson and green appendage of attractive aspect; the rounded top is also beautifully mottled by white translucent areas; the pitcher exterior and the appendage bear many honey- glands, the excretion from which tempts insects toward the orifice. The rounded hood is lighted within through the white areas, and bears many attractive honey- glands interspersed with down-directed hairs. Tempted by the former, and impelled by the latter, insects step or drop on to the upper interior of the tube. This is extremely smooth, affords no foothold, and so they soon tumble into the lower part. This is covered by down-directed hairs which prevent egress of the caught prey. Disintegration of the insects, amid a neutral liquid that is excreted by the pitcher-wall, then takes place and the products are gradually absorbed through thin areas of the lower cavity. Honey-secretion and insect-catching proceed most actively in May and June; by midsummer, therefore, each pitcher is filled to a depth of 4-8 in. by a decaying mass of insect-remains, amid which at times centipedes or a slug may be found. The genus is native from N. Cen. Calif. to S. Ore. It occurs there on the Sierras by the edge of mountain swamps or "deer-licks" at an elevation of 2,000-8,000 ft. Specimens were first hurriedly collected by W. D. Brackenridge of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, on the southern slopes of Mt. Shasta, when the explorers were retreating before attacking Indians. The specimens were described and named by Torrey.

Darlingtonias have been grown outdoors in the East the year round in a few special localities. Edward Gillett at Southwick, Massachusetts, grows them in a favored spot without artificial protection. F. H. Hors- ford can preserve them at Charlotte, Vermont, with the aid of a winter mulch.

As greenhouse plants, darlingtonias require the same treatment as their allies, sarracenias, dioneas and droseras. A well-grown collection of these plants is not only very interesting and curious, but also very beautiful. To succeed, they must occupy a shaded position, and never be allowed to become dry. Give a cool, moist, even temperature. If possible, a glass case should be provided for them, with provision made for ventilation; a constant moist atmosphere can be more easily maintained, and at the same time the greenhouse in which they are grown may be freely ventilated without injury to these plants. The material in which they grow best is two-thirds fern-root fiber with the dust shaken out, and one-third chopped sphagnum moss and silver sand, with a few nodules of charcoal added. About the first week in July is perhaps the best time for potting, though one must be guided by the condition of the plants, choosing a time when they are the least active. When well established they will require potting only once in two years. The pots should be placed in pot-saucers as a safeguard against their ever becoming dry, and all the space between the pots should be filled with sphagnum moss up to the rims of the pots. A temperature of 40° to 45 during winter, with a gradual rise as the days lengthen in spring, will suit them admirably. During the summer they should be kept well shaded, or they may be removed to a well- shaded frame outside in some secluded position free from hot drying winds. Propagation of these plants is effected by division of the roots, or by seeds sown on live sphagnum moss in pans, the moss being made very even and the pans placed either under a bell-jar or glass case in a cool moist atmosphere.

Darlingtonia californica, Torr. Fig. 1222. Rootstock horizontal: Lvs. 5-8 in annual rosettes, long-tubular, somewhat twisted, with median anterior flap, green below, green mottled with white over the arched hood, orifice down-directed with bilobed red and green appendage in front: fl.-stalk 10-30 in., bearing scattered bracts; fl. solitary, inverted; sepals 5, pale green; petals 5, yellowish to brown-red with red veins; stamens 15-12, inserted below ovary; ovary obconic with depressed apex, style 5-lobed with radial stigmas: caps, obovate, surrounded by the persistent sepals. Flowers from May to July, according to elevation. B.H. 5:113. F.S. 14:1440. F.M. 1869:457. B.M. 5920. I.H. 18:75. G.C. III. 7:84; 17:304; 24:339.—Intro, into cult, in 1861. Var. rubra, Hort. Differs from type in being a reddish hue. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


The Darlingtonia californica can be one of the most difficult carnivorous plants to keep in cultivation, but this depends on the area in which they are cultivated. They prefer cool to warm day-time temperatures and cold or cool night-time temperatures. The problem is that cobra lilies typically grow in bogs or streambanks that are fed by cold mountain water, and grow best when the roots are kept cooler than the rest of the plant. It is best to mimic these conditions in cultivation, and water the plants with cold, purified water. On hot days, it helps to place ice cubes of purified water on the soil surface. They prefer sunny conditions if in a humid, warm location, and prefer part-shade if humidity is low or fluctuates often. Plants can adapt to low humidity conditions, but optimum growth occurs under reasonable humidity.

File:Darlingtonia californica4.jpg
A single plant in cultivation, clearly showing the first pitcher of the season. The first few pitchers at the beginning of each growing season are much larger than the others

Growing cobra lilies from seed is extremely slow and cobra seedlings are difficult to maintain, so these plants are best propagated from the long stolons they grow in late winter and spring. When a minute cobra plant is visible at the end of the stolon (usually in mid to late spring), the whole stolon may be cut into sections a few inches long, each with a few roots attached. Lay these upon cool, moist, shredded long-fibered sphagnum moss and place in a humid location with bright light. In many weeks, cobra plants will protrude from each section of stolon.

Like many other carnivorous plants, cobra lilies require a cold winter dormancy in order to live long-term. Plants die down to their rhizomes in frigid winters and will maintain their leaves in cool winters during their dormancy period. This period lasts from 3 to 5 months during the year, and all growth stops. As spring approaches, mature plants may send up a single, nodding flower, and a few weeks later the plant will send up a few large pitchers. The plant will continue to produce pitchers throughout the summer, however much smaller than the early spring pitchers.

Many carnivorous plant enthusiasts have succeeded in cultivating these plants, and have developed or discovered three color morphs: all green, all red, and red-green bicolor.

Wild-type plants are all green in moderate light and bicolor in intense sunlight.


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Pests and diseases

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