Cobra Lily Care: Tips For Growing A Cobra Lily Plant

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

There is something otherworldly about the cobra lily plant. The undulating form and strangely built leaves call to mind old horror movies, yet give such a unique vision that the viewer is also reminded of the great diversity of life on our planet. This pitcher plant is not only unique in appearance but has an active appetite fed by insects and, occasionally, small vertebrates. If you are lucky enough to live in a zone that is sufficiently warm, learn how to grow cobra lily and bring this amazing plant’s drama into your landscape.

Cobra Lily Information

California pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) grow in distinctive groupings across the state’s countryside. Cobra lily pitcher plants are native to North America and found in nutrient-poor boggy areas. The plants spread asexually through runners and stolons and infrequently flower. They are inimitable plants, unmatched by most flora in exceptional structure and eccentric beauty.

The cobra lily plant almost defies description. The main features of the plant are the modified leaves that rise from the base and terminate in hooded foliage. The leaves resemble the heads of cobras and they serve a specialized function. The habitat of these plants is poor in nutrients and they use those hooded leaves to gather fuel through digested insects.

The hood secretes an attractive scent, which entices unsuspecting prey to enter. Once inside, they have difficulty getting back out and the plant secretes digestive enzymes, which break down the animal matter. Unlike other pitcher plants, complete cobra lily information needs to include the fact that their hoods are not open and they do not collect rainwater to trap and drown their prey.

How to Grow a Cobra Lily

The cobra lily pitcher plants need warm temperatures, full sun, and cold water to cool their roots. These conditions are hard to come by in all but a natural bog. However, if you can provide these circumstances, the plant may still be hard to come by. Darlingtonia pitchers are not as commercially available as Sarracenia pitcher plants.

If you do get lucky, a container garden is probably your best bet. Plant it in a high percentage of peat with just a little fine bark and garden sand. Flush the roots daily with fresh water and move the plant to shelter if temperatures are higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C.). The ideal temperature range is 70 to 80 F. (21-26 C.) and they are hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10.

If you get a hold of seeds, they will need stratification for four weeks in the refrigerator. Surface sow the seeds and keep the pot moist with a plastic bag over the container to conserve water.

Cobra Lily Care

Moisture is the most important part of cobra lily care. Use rainwater if possible, or purchase spring water because the plants are sensitive to excess minerals and chemicals in tap water.

You can cut back any dead stems and leaves as needed. They do not need fertilizing and will ingest most insect pests.

The biggest disease issue is fungal, but keeping water off the leaves will usually prevent any heavy spore activity. The plant can take a brief freeze if it is dormant but you should move it to a sheltered location such as a cold frame if the freeze is weeks long.

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Read more about Pitcher Plants

The Fascinating Cobra Lily, with its unmistakable serpentine "tongue" will make a handsome addition to your carnivorous plant collection. These Cobra lilies are 3 - 5 year old specimens that you can select either as bare-root or potted in a 4 inch pot.

The Fascinating Cobra Lily, with its unmistakable serpentine "tongue" will make a handsome addition to your carnivorous plant collection. These Cobra lilies are 3 - 5 year old specimens that you can select either as bare-root or potted in a 4 inch pot.

Biology of a Cobra lily

Cobra Lily

Darlingtonia californica is an easy and rewarding plant to grow in the right position, but will struggle if it is not in the right place.

Grow in pots (preferably brown or white rather than black to prevent too much root warming) in water trays or saucers in a cold greenhouse or outside.

Darlingtonia does not like to have its root growth cooked during a hot summer. Do not stand plant in a hot conservatory or on hot patios. If grown undercover, keep plant near entrance so it is the coolest positionDarlingtonia will grow up to 75cm tall and prefers a sheltered position if grown outside. We have one colonising well in a large bog garden.

Always use soft water, preferably rainwater. We keep ours standing in 2-4cm water from March through October, and then just damp through the winter. There is no need to pour iced water through the pot, if other root cooling measures are taken. We have never used iced water.

Never give any fertiliser through the root system. If the plant is grown in fly free conditions, it is best to feed live insects into the trap during the growing season. Live wax worms and meal worms can be obtained from . We find it to be a good feeder by itself, often getting indigestion in the summer months, when they catch many insects very quickly. This causes a brown patch and it is a good sign of a healthy plant. It is difficult to avoid without blocking up the entrance to the trap with cotton wool.

Winter Care
We have had large mature plants outside over winter, down to -13C and have had reports from a customer in the midlands who have had them survive -19C!Small plants and seedlings are not so hardy, and should be over wintered in a cold greenhouse, cloche or cold windowsill.Remove old foliage as it dies down, especially if grown under cover as dead leaves can harbour botrytis. However, this is more common in Sarracenias. It is important that Darlingtonia have a cold winter so that it stops growing and has a rest.

We use a mixture of 6:2:1 Sphagnum peat: perlite: sharp lime free sand. Parts by volume. Darlingtonia will also grow well in pure live sphagnum moss. Re-pot every two years to achieve maximum growth, but will tolerate being left for four years.

Separation of young stolons from around the edge of the parent plant. Division of the main plant. Can also be grown from seed. Sow immediately after harvesting or in very early spring.

Sub-soil biology & requirements

Darlingtonia are most commonly found at sea level by the coasts of Northern California and Southern Oregon. They will grow up into the central mountains, but in all conditions, their roots produce long underground stolons and are exposed to cool, slow-moving water. Keep roots cool, especially during summer nights, to keep Cobra lilies happy.

Root temperature

The need for cooling water is a lesson learned the hard way by your dear author. Living in hot Southern California, I have fried my share of Cobra lilies – exceedingly unfortunate as they now carry a “threatened” label due to habitat destruction. If temperatures get too hot, use refrigerated water and water the plants from overhead, cooling down the roots. Ice cubes left on the soil’s surface can also help.

Root growth

If given the right conditions, Darlintonia californica will send out long stolons, or runners, that creep underground and pop up as new plants feet away from the parent. These stolons are a reliable source of cuttings for Cobra propagation. We cover that, below.

Cobra plant

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Cobra plant, (Darlingtonia californica), also called cobra lily or California pitcher plant, the only species of the genus Darlingtonia of the New World pitcher plant family (Sarraceniaceae). The cobra plant is native to swamps in mountain areas of northern California and southern Oregon and uses its carnivorous pitfall traps to supplement its nutritional requirements in poor soil conditions. It thrives in redwood and red fir forests up to 2,000 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level, where temperatures remain below about 18 °C (65 °F).

The plant’s hooded pitcherlike leaves resemble striking cobras and bear purple-red appendages that look similar to a snake’s forked tongue or a set of fangs. Those stalkless hollow leaves spring from the rootstalk and are 40–85 cm (16–33 inches) tall. Insects and other small animals are drawn to the mouth of the pitcher by nectar glands embedded in the ramplike “tongue.” Translucent patches on the hood resemble windows and serve to confuse and tire insects trapped inside. The true exit is concealed, and escape is prevented by slippery walls and downward-pointing hairs. Eventually the prey falls into the accumulated fluid at the bottom of the pitcher. Unlike most other carnivorous plants, the cobra plant does not seem to produce its own digestive enzymes and relies instead on bacteria to break down its prey for absorption.

The plant bears a solitary nodding flower on a stalk that is as long as the leaf. It has five green sepals that are longer than the five red-veined green petals. Although its highly modified floral structures suggest that they have evolved to attract specific pollinators, no pollinators have yet been identified.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello, Assistant Editor.

Watch the video: Stratification and Planting Darlingtonia Californica

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