Darlingtonia State Natural Site is the only Oregon state park property dedicated to the protection of a single plant species. Concurrently, the plants it protects are the only carnivorous flora in the system.
This 18-acre botanical park provides parking and a boardwalk trail out into a fen that is home to Darlingtonia californica. Also called a cobra lily, the rare, strangely-shaped plant is the only member of the pitcher plant family (Sarraceniaceae) in Oregon.
What visitors see in this little garden of multi-colored horrors (for insects), is a plant with yellowish green hooded leaves that form erect, 10 to 20-inch-high hollow tubes. On top, the leaves are often purplish to reddish mottled with transparent areas. A hidden opening into the stalk is bordered by a large, green, mustache-shaped appendage beneath the curved hood of the leaf. Nectar inside the plant’s hidden opening attracts the insects. Once inside, an insect becomes confused by the transparent areas that appear like exits. It’s all “downhill” for the insect from that point as it eventually drops into the lower part of the tube, is trapped by downward-pointed hairs and falls into a pool of water at the bottom of the stalk. Bacteria in the water decompose it into nitrogen that is then absorbed by the plant.
Darlingtonia californica has flowers with five purple petals (surrounded by yellow sepals) that bloom in the spring. Associated species include an orchid, California lady’s slipper, and two lilies, Tofieldia and Narthecium.
Darlingtonia plants are found in serpentine soils and sphagnum fens arising from wet sands on coastal plains. Collecting Darlingtonia samples is illegal in Oregon.
Besides its parking area and boardwalk, Darlingtonia State Natural Site offers a small picnic area. Nearby scenery includes a lush assortment of vegetation that includes rhododendron, spruce, cedar and shore pine.
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