By Chuck Woodbury
I survived my visit to the meat-eating plants along the Oregon coast just north of Florence. It turns out, these carnivores prefer insects to humans.
The plants occupy an area about half the size of a basketball court alongside U.S. 101. A short trail — maybe 1/10th of a mile, leads into the plants, and then a boardwalk extends right over them. They don’t look very special, but you can definitely see how they got the nickname “cobra lilies.” Their real name is Darlingtontonia californica.
I won’t go into much detail, but, basically, unsuspecting insects fly inside the plants looking for nectar. Bad move! Once inside, they get confused by transparent areas that look like exits, which, in reality, descend into a pool of water inside the stalk. The creatures were absolutely right about heading towards an exit —one to the insect hereafter!
To be technical, the plants don’t actually eat the bugs, in the way we eat. What happens is that bacteria in the water inside the plants decompose the insect into nitrogen that is then absorbed into the plant. To a cobra lily that’s good eating!
If you’re driving along U.S. 101, watch for signs to Darlingtonia State Natural Site a few miles out of Florence. There’s a picnic area there, so you can eat right along with the plants. Admission is free.