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Here's another site way high up in the mountains that's actually relatively small, but jam packed with plants! We nick-named it the mountain creek site because a creek runs right through the middle of the habitat and, well, it's in the mountains! Not really rocket science :) The plants here are absolutely outstanding, and many were producing very large traps. Here's the creek that gives the site its name: despite low water levels and record drought, there was still plenty of water at this site: Do you see the mountain the background? It's made of very porous rocks, and those rocks collect moisture. Because of the volume of rocks and spaces in between the rocks of this mountain, water collects like a sponge. Downhill (where the darlingtonia site is) water constantly seeps out from the mountain, and the beginning of the spring is where Darlingtonias grow: All of this water feeds down a steep creek, which eventually feeds into the river that goes to the ocean. At the bottom of this valley in the background is the creek: But let's go back to the site. "Ay, yo Rob!!!": remember all of those darlingtonias you killed in the past? Well, don't feel so bad, they also die out in the wild. Here are some skeletal remains and even some dying seedlings. Why are they biting the dust? My guess, in this instance, is heat stress. Usually, water diversion causes issues, but you can clearly see water in this photo: Further evidence of heat stress:recent burning of the traps: Rob tested the water at various sites, and the range was between 30ppm to about 70ppm. I believe this site was around 40 ppm (can't remember for sure). Salty water isn't likely the cause of death here: This was definitely a site to behold: Some red plants grow here too! Powdery mildew is common in the wild: Plants can form dense populations: What are Darlingtonias eating in the wild? I've been visiting sites for almost 2 decades now and have never opened one up, but I felt it was important for us all to see what's inside: cucumber beetles, and mainly flying insects. Notice the maggots at the top of the pile of dead bodies: what you can't tell is before the trap was split open, it was filled with this really nasty, rotting water! The maggots were on top of all the corpses so they wouldn't be under water:
During the fall, Darlingtonia californica (the cobra lily) can change colors from bright yellow to dark red, and mixtures in between. Sometimes, if stressed, the windows can change colors as well. In the wild, we found a few individuals that under normal conditions consistently produces red windows! We searched the site carefully and only found maybe 2-3 plants that displayed this unique characteristic. I visited this same site in 2010 (?) and at that time, we thought the red windows might just be an environmental thing. However, upon seeing the plants again in 2013, the same individuals had red windows, which suggest this is a genetic characteristic. Fortunately, this population is doing well in the wild, and these unique red windowed plants will likely persist in situ beyond our lifetime because they're very hard to find :) Photos taken 10/12/13: Look at how incredible these clones are! Interestingly, The red doesn't color up all the windows Notice plants in the background, under the exact same environmental conditions, do not produce red windows: Nature is absolutely fantastic! A different individual clone: If these plants didn't already look so alien, the red windows helps make them look even more bizzare: Side view: This one has a "moustache" like tongue:
Darlingtonias typically grow on hillside seeps high in the rocky, nutrient poor mountains. If they're found in a forest, the trees are usually either stunted or dying due to the harsh environmental conditions. However, one site has been discovered in the middle of the forest, which is a completely anomalous place to find cobra lilies. For a cool video and even more photos of darlingtonias in the wild, check out Rob Co's famous The Pitcher Plant Project: http://thepitcherpla...rip-2013-day-1/ I visited this site in 2010, and according to Damon Collinsworth of California Carnivores and Harry Tryon, a local Darlingtonia expert, the site looked a lot worse than it did approx. 10 years ago. Back then, they recalled the site was a lot more open, and is now getting shadier and shadier. Three years after visiting this site, my good friend Rob Co of the pitcher plant project and I revisited this site, and I was expecting "sarracenia doom and gloom." Was this site completely shaded out now, and how are the plants doing? To my surprise, the site looked even better than it did in 2010! I actually have some shots that I took in 2010, and you can compare them to 2013! Here's the site, photo taken 10/11/2013. Notice it's getting full sun! a really beautiful site: Ferns, azaleas, and other natives competing with Darlingtonia: Notice the dead or dying tree in the background: ironically, this is what gives me hope that this site will continue. The seep is too toxic and boggy for trees to colonize: Here's a picture of a darlingtonia plant from this site taken Sept. 17, 2010: Here's the exact same plant 3 years later, photo taken 10/11/13. They normally are even bigger after 3 years, but I suppose things are a bit slower at this site: To digress and belabor the point above, here's a clump at a different site, taken 9/17/10. There is one more plant behind it, but it's hard to tell because of the angle of the photo: The clump in the foreground is the same exact plant as the photo above! When these things send out stolons, they can really get big quickly. Unlike Sarracenias, Darlingtonias are doing very well in the wild! Photo taken 10/11/13:
While exploring Darlingtonias with my friend Rob Co, we found a site in Del Norte Co, CA that seems to be isolated from the rest of the populations that are normally found in the area. This is found at around 5,000 feet above sea-level, so I suppose it's considered a montane habitat. Fortunately, it hadn't snowed yet, so we lucked out and were able to see this site. In previous years, snow prevented us from being able to see the higher elevation plants. The site was extensive, and if I had to guess, there were probably more than 20,000 plants here. IT seems when they put in the road and drainage, it destroyed the fen that was downhill, but uphill, the fen was thriving! The artificial ditch became an ideal habitat for these plants as indicated by the dense population that covers it. There were 4 or 5 different seeps that all drained into the roadside ditch, and surprisingly, this location was relatively close to the top of the mountain. It faced the east side, so the plants are likely shaded in the late afternoon, which helps keep the site cool. All photos taken 10/11/13: "Hey Rob!" The moment he turned his head, click: These plants were densely populating the roadside ditch: An extensive population: every last square inch that could be colonized had a plant: One of the fens or seeps that fed into the roadside ditch: Another seep in the same area: more habitat shots: Water is constantly running from the hillside. Check out those plants hanging on the cliff! The old pitchers from previous years eventually becomes substrate: Closer shot: notice how they're growing on almost pure, alluvial rock: Densely packed: The plants at this site were "normal" in size...no giants like I've seen elsewhere, but they can vary in size from year to year. In other words, they still could get giant: Another habitat shot: And now for some close-ups-diversity was decent here: Some slightly red ones: Nice green bodies with a contrasting red tongue: Now, you may think, OMG, a very yellow clone! While we did find plants that were very yellow (and likely due to genetics), this one was water stressed and growing in a very dry area. Notice the damage on the pitcher from a lack of water perhaps a month or two ago: Still, it's quite incredible: One last shot: A nice clone: