California Pitcher Plant Care

Botanical Name: Darlingtonia californica

california pitcher plant, cobra lily

California Pitcher Plant is a carnivorous plant that grows in bogs in its native habitat of Northern California and Oregon. Because it is unable to get the nutrients it needs from the soil, it has developed a way to feed from the insects it traps.

The long, tubular green leaves have prominent purple-red veins, made more prominent when exposed to bright light. They arch at the top, so that the opening faces downward like a hood. Hanging from these hooded tubes are forked leaves that look like serpents' tongues. The upright hooded tubes, together with the "tongues", resemble cobras ready to strike, giving this menacing plant another common name, Cobra Lily.

This carnivorous plant lures insects inside its hooded opening with an intoxicating nectar. Once inside, insects are trapped by tiny hairs that point downward in the tube, making it almost impossible for the prey to escape.

Once you understand its background, you'll understand California Pitcher Plant care. Provide the moist, nutrient-deficient soil and humid air like its natural habitat to keep it healthy. This is one of the few plants I know that doesn't mind cold water. In fact, it prefers a cold drink. Growing in a bog in the Northwest, it's watered by cold mountain streams and grows best when its roots are cold. If you like, you can water by placing ice cubes (made from distilled or rain water) on top of the soil.

This is a perennial that can be kept from year to year. California Pitcher Plant will go dormant in winter for about 3-4 months. When it dies down, cut off all of the dead pitchers, leaving a few young pitchers. Keep the plant lightly moist and cool during dormancy, with temperatures between 40-45°F/4-7°C. Moving it to a garage or basement for the winter may be ideal...just be sure it gets some indirect light and the temperatures don't go below freezing.

New leaves will appear in early spring. You can divide and repot the plant when it starts coming out of dormancy, but be sure to do this before vigorous new growth begins.

California Pitcher Plant Care Tips

california pitcher plant, cobra lily

Origin: Northern California and Oregon, U.S.A.

Height: Up to 12 in (30 cm)

Light: Bright light, but no direct sun. Fluorescent lighting works well.

Water: Keep soil evenly moist year-round. Because this plant is sensitive to chemicals in tap water, use only distilled or rain water.

Humidity: Moderate to high humidity. Mist the plant every day or set the pot on a tray of wet pebbles.

Temperature: Average room temperatures 60-75°F/16-24°C; In winter, a cold dormancy period is needed 40-45°F/4-7°C

Soil: Use a nutrient-poor medium because rich potting mix will harm its roots. You can plant it in live sphagnum moss, or if that is not available, mix 1 part peat moss with 1 part perlite or sharp sand.

Fertilizer: Don't fertilize the plant. It makes its own food through photosynthesis when there are no bugs around.

Propagation: Divide in spring when new growth begins. Can be grown from seed, but germination is slow.


Green Thumb Tip

Don't allow the soil to dry out. If leaves become limp, it means that the soil is too dry.

Water thoroughly, although the plant may not recover.

Did you know...

The California Pitcher Plant is the only species in the genus Darlingtonia. The plant was discovered growing in bogs in the Northwestern U.S. in 1841.

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