Plant of the Week
California Pitcherplant (Darlingtonia californica)
By Mary K. Byrne
Its bright green stalks and bulbous cap easily identify this striking plant. What distinguishes the California carnivorous pitcherplant from the eastern pitcherplants is not only its size but also wing-shaped leaves that protrude from the top of the bulbous cap. The winged leaves are the reason this pitcherplant is sometimes referred to as the cobra pitcherplant. The California pitchplant can grow up to 3 feet and turns shades of red and brown with age. The light green and red flowers point downward, possibly to keep rain away from the pollen.
Growing Conditions and Distribution
Darlingtonia californica grows in sunny wet areas near streams or in bogs throughout Northern California and Western Oregon. While Darlingtonia californica is not serpentine soil dependent, it can grow in such soils and tolerates soil with toxic or heavy metals. Growing Darlingtonia californica in your own bog garden requires patients and diligence. Cool nights are required and as the temperatures warm up in the summer months keeping the roots cool during the day is a must.
Darlingtonia californica is a carnivorous plant; it lures, traps, and dissolves insects with its pitcher shaped leaves. Insects are lured to the slippery pitchers by color and nectar. Once the insect enters the bulbous top of the pitcher it becomes disoriented by the translucent quality of the leaves. Then, the insect has a difficulty determining which way to exit. Eventually, the insect gets trapped inside the tube and slides downward toward the bottom of the pitcher where it is dissolved and absorbed as nutrients by the plant.
California pitcherplant is restricted to moist and bog areas, which naturally limits its habitat range. The California Native Plant Society has given California pitcherplant a ranking of 4.2, limited distribution. Land use changes have impacted Darlingtonia californica populations, like many habitat restricted species.
The pollination biology of Darlingtonia californica has been a mystery to scientists. Recent research has shown that bees and spiders visit and pollinate the flowers. Additionally, self-fertilization might also play a significant role in the reproductions of California pitcherplant.