Darling-what? Was my thought, the first time I saw the sign for the Darlingtonia Wayside north of Florence. That was many, many years ago. Since then, I’ve learned that the “Darlingtonia” is a “California pitcher plant” (also known as a hooded cobra lily); the carnivorous—fly eating—plant that captivated my attention as a youngster.
Although I’ve been intrigued by the thought of seeing carnivorous plants in the wild ever since I learned about this area, for various reasons we’ve never stopped here. Luckily, this spring that changed. What I discovered is that the Wayside (now officially called the Darlingtonia State Natural Site), consists of a short loop trail through the natural area. At most, it is about a quarter-mile long. Most of the trail is a board walk through a marshy area full of the Darlingtonia californica.
So how does a plant eat a fly? In this case, the Darlingtonia consists of a long, hollow, tubular leaf which curves into a hood at the top. The mustache-like part which hangs down in the front is full of nectar which entices the flies and other insects. Once they enter the tube, the flies are attracted to light which comes into the hood through transparent panels. Eventually they land onto the interior surface of the leaf, which is smooth and waxy, causing them to slide into a pool at the base of the plant; stiff, downward facing hairs keep them from climbing back up the tube. The flies drown at the bottom and their carcasses break down, allowing the plant to absorb the nutrients they release.
The Darlingtonia blooms in the late spring, and I discovered this weekend that they are just starting to bloom. Although I think a stop here any time of year is fascinating, for the next few weeks people (like myself) who are also fascinated by wild flowers will find it especially rewarding.
Logistics: Though previously called the Darlingtonia Wayside, the new name is the Darlingtonia State Natural Site, and that is the name you’ll see on the signs along Highway 101 just north of Florence. The Natural Site is almost exactly 5 miles from the intersection of Highways 101 and 126, and it is located to the east of the highway. There is a small parking lot, a restroom and picnic tables, and the short board walk through the marsh.