An Expedition to California Carnivores

Tucked into the farmlands of Sebastapol, is Northern California’s very own carnivorous jungle. With not only a retail area but a chunk of the greenhouse for viewing, stepping into California carnivores and being confronted with the toothy pitchers of Nepenthes hamata is truly an amazing experience.

The first part of the greenhouse is actually outdoors, with plants of Drosera, Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores resting in both pots and a stunning “Memorial Bog,” full of seedlings and adult plants alike. Now for a few photos of the species living outsideRIMG3187.JPG This Sarracenia sp. has its pitchers full and ready for its next meal.rimg3186Drosera (or sundews) drop many seeds that germinate easily. This seedling was so young it had yet to unfurl its sticky traps.

After I took about a million photos, I headed inside to main chunk of the greenhouse. Before I saw many carnivorous plants, I was greeted by this blooming Pleurothallis orchid.


Pretty soon, I began to see what I hadn’t seen in almost a year, the most breathtaking collection of carnivorous plants in the state. I wish I could write more and post fewer pictures, but words will do few of these beastlike vines justice.


I’m not sure of the name of this strange bulbous hybrid, but one of the species used to make it was definitely Nepenthes aristolochoides, which creates the bulbous base and small, turned down hood.


I was also reunited with one of my all-time favorite plants, the chalice-like Nepenthes lowii, a very finicky ultrahighlander from Borneo.


I was lured in by the breathtaking blackness of this Nepenthes ramispina, a highlander from the Malaysian peninsula and one of the most beautiful Nepenthes in my opinion. Not sure about the growing conditions, but I assume it follows the same conditions as other highlanders.


At California Carnivores, hybridizing plants is a constant chore, so all developing seedpods are marked with yellow tags such as this one to remind the owners of the species that went into the creation of this potentially new cross.


This Nepenthes villosa looks similar to one of my favorite pitcher plants, Nepenthes hamata, due to the “teeth” along the pitcher, but I couldn’t help being attracted to the candy-colored orange of the pitcher, which is unusual in Nepenthes, as well. In the background, a tag can be seen that reads “Nepenthes rajah, seed grown.” This only a seedling, but it is a seedling of the largest pitcher plant in the world, which was very cool to see in person.

But enough about Nepenthes. Here are some photos of my favorite carnivorous plant, Heliamphora.


These stunning Heliamphora hail from a cool, humid, elevated mountain range in Venezuela and need a LOT of light. I purchased a couple seedlings of Heliamphora tatei x, which I hope makes it in my friend’s greenhouse until mine is done. If it doesn’t thrive, I’ll put it in a terrarium under some grow lights. This is the only genus of pitcher plants from South America.

Another fascinating plant is the Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, shown below.


These pitcher plants can be grown outside in zones 9-10, but they must stay constantly moist and anything more than a 1/4 inch of water (if sitting them in water) will rot the roots. Watering from above will do the same, so it’s recommended to soak them in water from below and then remove them so they’ll stay moist but not waterlogged. They also like bright light, so the more light they get the better. These may look large, but the adult pitcher are a little bigger than my thumb nail and my seedlings from my collection (shown below) are truly tiny.


The last plant I’d like to talk about in detail is Darlingtonia californica, our very own native cobra lily.


These rare pitchers from far Northern California and Oregon (the furthest south I’ve seen reports of is Mendocino county) grow in cool pools of running water across the mountains and swamps of the area. Darlingtonia national park in Oregon is dedicated to their preservation. Because they need cool running water along their roots, they are very difficult to grow in captivity. Sometimes they are watered with cold water very frequently, but a bubbling water system with an evaporative cooler is best and like most pitchers, they like a lot of light. Unlike most pitcher plants, they don’t have open pitchers, but rather draw insects up their “tongue” and into the hood where they are digested, with many layers of exits beneath the hood. While I find this much more striking than the Sarracenias, it is closely related and designated as in the same family, Sarriceneacae.

While that concludes my highlights reel, I highly suggest a trip to California Carnivores if you’re in the area. The hospitality and customer service is extraordinary and the retail area has a plant for everyone from the frustrated pest-preventer to the highland savant.


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