Excerpt from: The Wild Flowers of California

Beginning at the top of Page 396


Darlingtonia Californica Torr. Pitcher-plant Family.

Bog plants, with long horizontal rootstocks. Leaves.-Tubular; furnished with a wing the length of the tube; hooded and appendaged above; eighteen to thirty-four inches high. Scape.-Eighteen inches or more high, with green bracts crowded near the solitary nodding flower. Flower parts in fives. Sepals.-Green; twenty lines long. Petals.- Purplish; shorter than the sepals; constricted above into a terminal lobe. Stamens.-Twelve to 15 in a circle around the ovary. Ovary.-Top-shaped; truncate; five-lobed; five-celled. Style five-lobed. Stigmas thickish. Hab.-The Sierras, from Truckee Pass into Oregon.

Our pitcher-plant is one of the most wonderful and interesting of all the forms that grow, linking, as it were, the vegetable world with the animal, by its unnatural carnivorous habits.If you would like to visit it, this warm July day, we will take a mountain trail, leading around under lofty yellow pines, Douglas spruces, and incense-ceders, making our way through the undergrowth until we come to a swamp lying upon a hillside yonder. While still some distance away, we can discern the yellowish-green of the myriad hoods as they lift themselves in the sunlight like spotted snakes.

If you have never seen the plant before, you will be in a fever of excitement till you can reach the spot and actually take one of the strange pitchers in your hand to examine it. Nothing could be cleverer than the nicely arranged wiles of this uncanny plant for the capturing of the innocent-yes, and the more knowing ones-of the insect world who come within its enchantment. No ogre in his castle has has ever gone to work more deliberately or fiendishly to entrap his victims while offering them hospitality, than does this plant-ogre. Attracted to the bizarre yellowish hoods or the tall nodding flowers, the foolish insect alights upon the tube and commences his exploration of the fascinating region. He soon comes upon the wing, which often being smeared with a trail of sweets, acts as a guide to lure him on to the dangerous entrance to the hoodlike dome. Once within this hall of pleasure, he roams about, enjoying the hospitality spread for him. But at last, when he has partaken to satiety and would fain depart, he turns to retrace his steps. In the dazzlement of the translucent windows of the dome above, he loses sight of the darkened door in the floor by which he entered and flies forcibly upward, bumping his head in his eagerness to escape. He is stunned by the blow and plunged downward into the tube below. Here he struggles to rise, but countless downward-pointing, bristly hairs urge him to his fate. He sinks lower and lower in this "well of death" until he reaches the fatal waters in the bottom, where at length he is engulfed, adding one more to the already numerous victims of this diabolical plant.

The fluid at the bottom of the well is secreted by the plant, and seems to have somewhat the action of a gastric juice in disintegrating the insects submerged in it. Many species of ants, flies, bees, hornets, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, dragon-flies, beetles, etc., are to be found in the tube, sometimes filling it to a depth of two or three inches.

The disagreeableness of the vicinity of these plants can be imagined upon a hot day when the sun is shining "Upon this sad abode of death" and all the air is tainted with their sickening odor.

The mountaineers call the plant "calf's-head," because of the large yellowish domes of the pitchers.