California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica)
The only carnivorous plant native to the west coast. This strange-looking member of the pitcher plant family (not a lily, as some might assume from its other common name,”Cobra lily”) lures insects into its tubular leaves (shown below), only to trap them there to drown and digest them. The nodding somewhat plastic-looking flower (above) rises above the leaves on a separate stalk in the spring, then new leaves appear in the early summer. We found fresh flowers amid last year’s leaves at Eight Dollar Mountain in mid-April, and hope to update this post with fresh (yellow-green) leaves later this season.
The plant is rare, not because it’s hard to find or endangered, but because of its small domain. That said, nine Oregon counties are home to it, as it occurs in the serpentine soils of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and along the Oregon-California coast. Eight other members from another genus of the pitcher plant family, Sarraceniaceae, are native to the eastern U.S. and Canada. The only other carnivorous plant in the U.S. is the well-known Venus Fly Trap, also native to the east coast.
Surprisingly, meat-eating is not that strange an occurrence in the plant world. More than 600 carnivorous species exist in “at least 9 families”, according to this “carnivorous plant fact sheet“, from the Flora of North America Association. More surprisingly, the same source goes on to say that “carnivory originated independently multiple times” in the evolutionary process of several different families of plants.
In several spots along Eight Dollar Mountain, near Selma, Oregon, pitcher plants grow in giant groupings in what are called “fens” — flat, marshy spots where water seeps up from underground.