At this park, a wooden boardwalk meanders across an expanse of mucky bogland blanketed by tangles of hooked plants. At first glance, the plants look like snakes reared up and ready to attack. Despite their serpentine shape, they aren’t actually dangerous, unless you happen to be an insect.
The Darlingtonia State Natural Site is an 18-acre botanical preserve and state park dedicated to the preservation of a single, rare plant species. Darlingtonia californica is a carnivorous plant native to Oregon and northern California’s few areas of boglands and meadows that have acidic soils with low nitrogen.
What looks like a blanket of strangely curved plants to the human eye is, for an insect, actually a death trap. The Darlingtonia ensnares insects in its hollow, tubular stalks, which stretch skyward beneath tops flared out with a forked leaf that resembles fangs or a serpent’s tongue, giving the plant its common name, the Cobra Lily.
The yellow-green hooded leaves that conceal the hidden chasm into the plants’ stalks spell certain doom for the unsuspecting bug. Insects lured into the secret opening by the sweet scent of nectar find themselves disoriented by transparent areas that mimic exits.
Confused and exhausted, the bugs eventually fall deeper into the lower parts of the stalk. Little hairs, all pointed downward, keep the insects from crawling back upward. They then take one final plunge into a small pool water at the bottom of the stalk, where they’ll remain until bacteria decomposes their drowned corpses.
- Genus (Darlingtonia) is capitalized; species (californica) is lower-case.