Northwest, USA

All hail breaks loose for the Brigante family as --

Dave Brigante

Cobras Are Found
in Oregon, USA!

by Dave Brigante
Click images to enlarge

The day started out as one might expect on the southern Oregon coast, coastal mist, fog on the shorelines and sunny blue skies looking inland towards the mountains. While vacationing, taking daily events in stride helps to make your experience that much more enjoyable. On this particular day we planned to take a hike out into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area and seek out the amazing carnivorous plants called "cobra lilies" (Darlingtonia californica) that we heard about at the local ranger station.

We packed up our truck with lunches and our two dogs, wearing our late summer casual clothes that seemed to be appropriate for where we were headed. Since it was late September and fall was in the air, a little more preparation would have been a good idea. We were naive!

Pond of Nuphar polysephalum

Our inland journey began by traveling 20-30 miles (32-48 kilometers) of gravel road to the trailhead. The beautiful cobra lilies are native to northern California and southwestern Oregon, but are not so prevalent in the wild as to be easy to find. The wilderness area has a vast array of unique and protected plant species besides the cobra lilies making the scenery especially diverse.

As the morning hours began to disappear we started to notice more clouds than sun on the horizon, but we were determined to continue on our adventure. The hike to the lilies is about three miles. Along the way we passed a native spatterdock (Nuphar polysephalum) pond.

We went down by the Smith River which runs through southern Oregon and crosses over the border into California, taking in the magnificent coastal redwood groves that make the area so well known, and back up again

Heffie cools off in the spatterdocks
When we reached a precipice and began to descend downward towards the bogs, the weather began to change and not for the better. We decided that it might be best for just one of the dogs, Heffie, and me to continue down the trail and to leave Davia and our other dog Gertrude to wait for us to get back.

When we started down the old creek bed, turned trail, and saw the bogs, it was quite a sight to behold. Literally thousands of cobra lilies were everywhere. There are primarily two large stands perched on the top of a high mountain ridge overlooking distant the forest. The two bog areas have hidden hillside springs flowing through them to keep the soil appropriately cool and moist. 
Cobra lilies prefer to have their roots stay much cooler than their upper plant parts, so those mountain springs are ideal. The bogs are out in full sun at an elevation that gets snow most winters, but doesn't get so cold as to kill off our Zone 7 serpents. They prefer to have a cold dormancy period of three to five months, returning with fresh new growth each spring.  
As far as growing them in a controlled environment, they are reputed to be one of the most difficult carnivorous plants to keep in cultivation. The effort it would require take to frequently flush cool water through their root systems is most likely not something most growers would be willing to do. After they leave their exacting natural conditions it can be quite a trick to duplicate them, unless of course you have a cool mountain stream running through your property. At the very least, running cool water through your moist soil garden on a regular basis would be a must.

Heffie immersed 
Heffie and I were totally immersed in our own little cobra lily world, but I noticed that once again the sky was turning extremely dark. At first a slight sprinkle fell, thankfully cooling us off after our push to the bogs. Then all hail broke loose. Once it began to hail in earnest it created the most unusual weather-related experience I had ever been involved with. The sound of the hail crystals hitting the cobra hoods was almost deafening. We didn't stick around for nature's symphony to reach its crescendo -- we got out of there.  

While ascending out of the quagmire, I came to realize that cobra lilies are very tough plants. The hail onslaught had not affected them in the least. The two of us, on the other hand, were racing against mother nature and let's just say we were fighting an uphill battle. When we reached our better halves we still had a couple of miles to go to reach the truck. It wasn't long after we had gotten on our way again that the heavy rains caught up with us. Our light clothing was soon soaked through, yet we found ourselves being coaxed up and over the hills by our two faithful canine companions. This was the day we had a lesson in what having hypothermia can be like and just how quickly your body's temperature can be altered.  

The grips we had on our dogs leashes became more clenched while our path became more creek-like. Those must have been two of the longest miles I have ever spent hiking in my life. It did come to an end -- the truck was in sight. After we reached our safe haven, I spent what seemed like an eternity trying to get my chilly contorted hands to work well enough to get the keys out of my pocket. Once in the truck and after being as unprepared as we were, we felt pretty lucky to be out of that weather. 

I should mention in conclusion that here in Oregon there is a much simpler way to see the amazing cobra lilies. The northern-most natural stand of these beauties in the continental United States is located along the coastal highway route just outside of the town of Florence. It is called the Darlingtonia Botanical Wayside, has ample parking, paved roadways, and man-made wooden pathways for walking over the bog.

After having survived our somewhat unsettling experience, the wayside bogs looked very enticing, but in the long run I wouldn't trade the memories we garnered from our little family outing for the world.  

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