Darlingtonia califonica, also known as the California Pitcher plant, the Cobra Plant or the Cobra Lily, is the only plant listed under the Darlingtonia genus. It is listed as an uncommon plant because it is so difficult to find.
William D. Brackenridge first discovered the cobra lily at Mount Shasta in 1841. The plant was named Darlingtonia after William Darlington, a Philadelphian botanist and it was first described by John Torrey.
This carnivorous plant can be difficult to keep alive if grown in the wrong area. This plant thrives in northern California through to Southern Oregon. The cobra lily grows tubular leaves which look like a cobra that is rearing back, preparing to strike. There is even a forked leaf that looks like the fangs or the tongue. The forked leaf is usually yellow to a purplish-green.
Insects are drawn to the cobra lily by its color and the nectar on this plant’s tongue. There is also a transparent opening on the top which allows light to shine through to the part of the tongue that has the most nectar on it. The insect is drawn in by the light and then continues on to the nectar. After the insect is inside the flower, it cannot get out. It will then fall down a tube at the back of the bloom towards downward facing hairs. At the bottom of this tube, there is a fluid with bacteria and other micro-organisms, which helps to create from the insect a fluid that is rich with nutrients that are then taken in to the plant's system.
Cobra Lilies like cool to warm temperatures during the day and cool temperatures at night. But the temperature is just part of the issue to keeping this plant alive. They also enjoy growing in bogs that receive their water from cold mountaintops. They also thrive when the roots remain cooler than the rest of the plant. So if trying to cultivate these in a home environment, each of these conditions should be met as best as possible. The water that is used for the plant needs to be cold and as pure as possible. Even using ice cubes on warm days will help to mimic the cold mountain water these lilies enjoy. The amount of light these plants need is determined by the amount of humidity in the area. If the humidity level is high and the area is warm, then the plant likes a lot of sunlight. If the humidity level varies or is low then the plant needs to be in a partly-shady area.
If a grower decides to grow this plant from seed, they do need to be patient as the germination time is long and the seedlings die easily. The best way to start this plant is to use the stolons that appear from late winter to the spring. At the end of the stolon a small plant will appear, and then the entire stolon can be divided in to sections that are a few inches each. These sections need to be placed in a humid area on top of some sphagnum moss. They should also receive bright light. After a few weeks, each section will produce its own cobra lily.
These lilies also need a cold dormancy in the winter. The plant needs to die down to the ground where the winters are cold, or if the winters just are cool, the plant will need to retain its leaves. The cobra lily needs to be dormant from three to five months.
How the plant pollinates is unknown. It is possible that it is a close pollinator plant, but this has not been truly identified. Theories include using a fly as the pollinator, but there have not been any studies to prove or disprove this.