Carnivorous Plants Website
Carnivorous Plants in the Wilderness
by Makoto Honda


Carnivorous Plants Story
Picture book for a young audience / Kindle Edition

Makoto Honda

Copyright (c) 2013-2017 by Makoto Honda. All Rights Reserved.


Cobra Plant

GENUS Darlingtonia

The cobra plant is another kind of carnivorous plant that uses a pitfall trap. The cobra plant looks similar to some of the eastern pitcher plants in the previous chapter. In fact, the cobra plant belongs to the same pitcher plants family. Unlike the eastern pitcher plants in the previous chapter, there is only one species in this genus: Darlingtonia californica.

New pitchers of cobra plants (left) growing skywards. The first pitcher of the season is the tallest of all pitchers to follow, reaching 60 cm in height. Note that the leaves are twisted 180 degrees as they grow. A fishtail appendage projects from the pitcher opening. This serves as a convenient ramp for flying insects. In early July, in southern Oregon. The seductive charm of a colorful flower (right) of a cobra plant, in May.

 The cobra plant is native to northern California and the adjacent southwestern part of Oregon in the United States. The plants typically thrive in and around fast-running streams on the mountain slope. Mountain springs that provide a constant supply of fresh, cold water  year round to the roots of the cobra plants are essential for the healthy and vigorous growth of the plants.


Brilliantly colored leaves of cobra plants in northern California, in July. The upper pitcher is scattered with numerous white patches that illuminate the dome interior.


Cobra plant flowers in northern California, in May.


The evening rays of the sun shining on a cobra plant colony in Oregon, illuminating the cobra heads with a golden hue. In late August.


A cobra plant flower in northern California, in May.

 The basic trap mechanism is the same as that of the eastern pitcher plants. The leaf becomes a hollow tube in which to capture small animal prey. In the cobra plant, the overhanging hood of the pitcher forms a dome, with the pitcher opening facing downward. A fishtail-shaped projection grows from the edge of the pitcher opening. The pitcher of a mature plant grows to 40-60 cm in height in a sunny, ideal natural habitat. An interesting feature of the cobra plant foliage is that the pitchers twist 180 degrees as they grow. Tall leaves arising above the grass-covered mountain meadow resemble the deadly cobras about to strike their prey. This gave the plant its common name. The other names include the California pitcher plant and cobra lily.


A fishtail-shaped appendage projecting from the frontal edge of the pitcher mouth. The upper surface of the appendage is lined with short hairs all pointing in the direction of the pitcher opening. This encourages foraging insects to move forward closer to the pitcher mouth. In September, northern California.


Bug's eye views of the interior of a cobra plant pitcher leaf, looking down toward the opening (left) and looking down into the spiral tube.


The upper pitcher is covered with numerous white patches, called fenestrations, that illuminate the pitcher dome interior. These light windows also create a deceptive illusion of an exit to freedom for the potential prey.


The upper pitcher is covered with white patches, or areolas, that illuminate the dome interior. In northern California, in September


The early morning sun hits a cobra plant colony surrounded by tall coniferous trees in northern California, in September.

 Many nectar glands are found over much of the pitcher exterior. Insects and other small animals are attracted to the pitcher by sweet nectar produced by these glands. Many nectar glands are also located on the fishtail projection, which may provide a convenient ramp for flying insects.


A cobra plant pitcher in northern California.


A dense growth in northern California.


The upper part of the dome has a number of small patches of translucent windows designed to light up the dome interior. Once an insect enters inside the dome, these light windows confuse the insect and distract them from finding the real exit. Moreover, tiny hairs growing on the dome ceiling make the surface slippery. The insect eventually falls into the spiral tube of the pitcher. The lower part of the pitcher tube is lined with long, stiff, downward-pointing hairs to retain the trapped prey. The pitcher contains a small amount of water at the base, and the captured prey is decomposed by bacteria. The nutrients are absorbed through the pitcher walls.


Sharp, downward-pointing, spine-like hairs growing on the walls of a pitcher tube. These hairs prevent insects from scaling the walls.

 In the spring, colonies of cobra plants are covered with dainty, colorful blossoms. A single, dangling flower is borne at the tip of a tall flower stem. Five bright red petals form a slightly elongated sphere, with five tiny holes around the spherical corolla, making the flower look like a "face." Five yellow sepals softly overhang the red corolla, creating a colorful visual contrast. The cobra plants bloom from May to July in their native habitats. Thousands of cobra plant flowers covering the mountain slope create a truly breath-taking floral spectacle.


A floral display of eerie blossoms in the mountain. The late afternoon sun creates a dazzling contrast of red and yellow. In May, in northern California.


A dangling flower of the cobra plant, with two petals and one sepal removed to reveal the flower interior. The tips of the five red petals meet to form a slightly elongated sphere. Five yellow sepals softly overhang the red corolla. Inside the flower, a large, bell-shaped ovary hangs from the tip of the crooked flower stalk. A five-lobed stigma protrudes from the bottom of the ovary. Many stamens surround the ovary.


A cross section of the flower (left) showing the interior of the bell-shaped ovary. A flower seen from below (right).


A flower blooms singly on a tall scape (flower stalk) in a pendulous position. A large bell-shaped ovary hangs, surrounded by 15 or so stamens. On the bottom surface of the ovary projects a five-lobed stigma. Five red petals form a slightly elongated sphere. Five yellow sepals overhang the corolla. The scape has 10 bracts along its length.

A blooming cobra plant colony formed on a mild slope in the mountain, in May, northern California.





Carnivorous Plants Story - Copyrighted Material
Copyright (c) 2013 by Makoto Honda. All Rights Reserved.

For a young audience, click here for
"Eaten Alive by Carnivorous Plants" by Kathleen J. Honda & Makoto Honda