Cobra lily – Darlingtonia californica
The rare Cobra Lily is a one-man wolf pack (…snake pack?), the only one species within its genus. It is native to regions of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Darlingtonia californica is closely related to other Sarracenia pitcher plants, but it exhibits unique physiological differences from its cousins.
The Cobra has an unusual broad curved head of the pitcher, which opens downward, unlike all the other pitcher plants; this, combined with the pointed forked leaf at the mouth of the plant gives the plant an undeniable resemblance to the famous hooded snake for which it gets its name. Apparently this isn’t enough to scare off insect, because Darlingtonia californica is a voracious insectivore.
Biology of a Cobra lily
Cobra Lilies use all the same tactics of traditional North American pitcher plants with pitfall traps (e.g. nectar, red coloration, sharp downward-pointing hairs that guide insects to their doom, and slick waxy surfaces), but they have a few additional tricks up their leaves.
Sub-soil biology & requirements
Darlingtonia are most commonly found at sea level by the coasts of Northern California and Southern Oregon. They will grow up into the central mountains, but in all conditions, their roots produce long underground stolons and are exposed to cool, slow-moving water. Keep roots cool, especially during summer nights, to keep Cobra lilies happy.
Cobra Lilies produce flower buds at their base in winter, and launch 1-to-3-foot-tall flower stalks come warmer spring weather. The singular flower dangles upside down where green sepals unfold from the bud. Beneath the sepals are red petals fuzed until their ends where an opening invites pollinators fortunate enough to not be food… yet.
Where to find Cobra lilies in the wild
You’ve probably guessed that, with a name like Darlingtonia californica, these plants grow in California. Bingo! Find them along the coastal sphagnum bogs of Northern California into the Southern regions of Oregon. They stretch inland in Del Norte County from the Smith River basin down to Humboldt County. Even farther inland, you’ll come across Cobra lilies by Mt. Shasta, the Trinity Alps, and Klamath mountains all the way through to Sierra Nevada.