September 5, 2016

Darlingtonia State Natural Site (Jul. 2016, OR)


Darlingtonia State Natural Site
Near Florence, OR
July 24, 2016

Just north of Florence on the Oregon coast is a small turnoff on Highway 101 called the Darlingtonia State Natural Site. This wayside draws the focus of visitors to a microecosystem that stretches only a few feet in diameter. The miniature circle of habitat is dominated by the darlingtonia californica, or the cobra lily. My mom, her friend Lupe, and I stopped for a small hike to observe the cobras. A hundred times I'd been to Florence over the years, but I never actually stopped here to check it out.

This small patch of land is habitat for hundreds of these plants. They get their common name from their unique shape that, well, looks like a cobra's head. The californica is carnivorous, chomping down on any insect that happens into its large open mouth.


To get to the lily spot, you have to hike a short distance from the parking lot through some pretty coastal forest, including a twin cedar that greeted us as we entered.



Our eyes were immediately drawn to a large-leafed ground plant that looked a little like a skunk cabbage, without the smell or large bloom. I have had a hard time identifying it in the couple books I own and via web searches. So, I have been calling it the "forest pickle," after the green, cucumber-like fruit that each plant had stemming off of the main leaf bundle.



I added a mother for scale to show the size of these leaves.


The center of the wooded path is a loop around the lily garden. They're almost perfectly enclosed within a circle surrounded by trees. As you exit the treeline, you see the hundreds of snake heads at the ready.



The unique serpentine plants stick up about 2-3 feet. Cobra is an excellent namesake, as at closer inspection their skin shimmers with scales and fangs drop down, almost in a mustache pattern. Smaller, less-frequent brown spots bespeckle the snakeplant. The stalks inflate like balloons, floating up to meet their winged prey.


In between many of the cobra heads were some red blooms that snuck up even higher than their snake neighbors.


A dragonfly made a quick stand on one of the blooms that had yet to redden, showing off its scintillating wings.



Salal and deer ferns also shared tenancy with the cobras, giving a pop of color throughout the snake pit. Another dragonfly caught a breath, long enough for me to catch a photo of it next to the salal.



This micro world was full of life, but only to those with an eye for detail. It's a garden that thrives on the miniature, a delicate dance between snake and dragonfly, fern and berry. And you'd never know it was there if you didn't make the brief stop. Truly magnificent.


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