One very fascinating carnivorous plant species, Darlingtonia californica, grows in boggy habitats in the western US. This includes southern Oregon and northern California.
Although the distribution of the Cobra Lily aka Darlingtonia, is somewhat similar to the distribution of serpentine rocks. Darlingtonia, doesn’t appear restricted to serpentine sites. But it does appear to grow well in areas rich in heavy metals.
The cobra lily is not restricted to nutrient-poor acidic bogs and seepage slopes. But many colonies actually thrive in Ultramafic soils, which are in fact basic soils, within its range.
A carnivorous plant
In common with most carnivorous plants, the cobra lily is adapted to supplementing its nitrogen requirements through carnivory, which helps to compensate for the lack of available nitrogen in such habitats.
Cobra lily a carnivorous plant of the mountain west. Draws insects to its clever trap mechanism using a foul smelling stench created by enzymes in the plants stomach. The Lily attracts insects, traps them, and slowly digests these insects to supplement the plants nutritional needs.
Because many carnivorous species live in hostile environments. They have developed root systems as highly modified as their leaves. Darlingtonia californica is no exception.
The cobra lily is able to survive fire by regenerating from its roots. But despite this important role the roots are very delicate organs. While the temperatures in much of the species range can exceed 25 °C, their roots die back after exposure to temperatures not much higher than 10 °C.
Temperature plays a large part in the functioning of all plants, but it is very rare for individual organs to have such different temperature tolerances. The physiological mechanisms and evolutionary benefits of this discrepancy are not fully understood.
Water pumping roots
The cobra lily is unique among the three genera of American pitcher plants. It does not trap rainwater in its pitcher. Instead, it regulates the level of water inside physiologically by releasing or absorbing water into the trap that has been pumped up from the roots.
It was once believed that this variety of pitcher plant did not produce any digestive enzymes and relied on symbiotic bacteria and protozoa to break down the captured insects into easily absorbed nutrients. Recent studies have indicated that Darlingtonia secretes at least one proteolytic enzyme that digests captured prey.
Absorbing both animal soil nutrients
The cells that absorb nutrients from the inside of the pitcher are the same as those on the roots that absorb soil nutrients. The efficiency of the plant’s trapping ability is attested to by its leaves and pitchers, which are, more often than not, full of insects and their remains.
In addition to the use of lubricating secretions and downward-pointing hairs, common to all North American pitcher plants.
This species carefully hides the tiny exit hole from trapped insects by curling it underneath and offering multiple translucent false exits.
Upon trying many times to leave via the false exits, the insect will tire and fall down into the trap.
The slippery walls and hairs prevent the trapped prey from escaping. The only other species that utilizes this technique is the Parrot Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia psittacina.
A remaining mystery surrounding the cobra lily is its means of pollination. Its flower is unusually shaped and complex, typically a sign of a close pollinator-plant specialization, but none have been identified.
While the cobra lily’s pollination has not yet been observed in action. Pollination is thought to occur by either a fly attracted to the flower’s unpleasant smell or some nocturnal insect. As no extensive study has been performed to observe potential nighttime pollinators.
The flower is yellowish purple in color and grows on a stalk with a similar length to the stalk. It has five sepals, green in color, which are longer than the red-veined petals.
In a few flat boggy areas, one can see thousands of Darlingtonia plants. They prefer sunshine and don’t grow well in shade. If you want to visit a large colony of Darlingtonia plants, there is one open to the public near Florence, Oregon, just off the coast highway.