A Journey to Oregon’s Carnivorous Plants

A Journey to Oregon’s Carnivorous Plants

I finally decided to get serious in my search for Oregon’s cobra lily, Darlingtonia californica. I have been looking for specimens in local nurseries for several years to no avail. So where to start my search? Well…Facebook of course! I found group of dedicated, talented and generous carnivorous plants lovers and as soon as I asked, I got several offers of help and tips on where to find specimens for sale. Although Ryan from Bizarre Botanicals in Lakewood, WA usually sells at farmers’ markets, he invited me up to see his plants. I purchased a beautiful Darlingtonia from him and got a fascinating tour of his nursery. Although it was a healthy, lush plant, it didn’t have blossoms, so my next challenge was to find a Darlingtonia in bloom. Several people told me that if anyone would have one with blossoms, Jeff Greene would have it, and they were right!

The impressive array of carnivorous plants at Bizarre Botanicals. Ryan gave us a tour and lots of growing tips. Photo courtesy of Bizarre Botanicals.
These are the beautiful specimens of Darlingtonia californica that I got from local growers. The one on the left is from Bizarre Botanicals, and the flowering plant on the right is from Jeff Greene’s Carnivorous Plants.

Although potted plants are perfect for close observation, nothing can take the place of studying plants in their native habitat. I wanted to know all I could about their place in their ecosystem, companion plants and insects. Fortunately, since they are native to Oregon where I live, I was able to travel to two locations to observe them ‘in the wild’. The first was on the Oregon coast, and the second was its more typical habitat of higher elevations in southern Oregon and northern California. Darlingtonia colonies thrive in fens, which are mineral-rich areas with shallow flowing water.

On the Oregon coast, the Darlingtonia Wayside has a large colony of Darlingtonia that can be observed from a boardwalk.
We were fortunate to to have sunny weather, which is rather rare on the coast, especially in the spring when we were there. As you can see, the translucent cobra-shaped leaves glow in the sunshine, like lanterns.
In the fall, we headed to the fantastic TJ Howell Botanical Drive in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We were thrilled to find Darlingtonia fens on several hikes along the 7.5 mile drive.

As part of my study of Darlingtonia, or cobra lilies, I began some drawings of the flowers and ‘cobras’ (which are actually leaves) and to develop composition ideas. I wanted a painting that showed their twisting growth pattern, colorful translucence and included some of the insects that they would typically attract.

When working on composition ideas, I move around elements I want to include, keeping in mind principles like the rule of thirds and golden proportion. Since I planned a fairly complex composition, I ended up going with what felt right rather than a rigid rule or principle. Finally I worked on getting the colors just right by testing them on a scrap piece of vellum before applying them.

I decided to paint this special piece on Kelmscott vellum, which is hand prepared calfskin, made by William Cowley using the same method as used in the Renaissance. This type of vellum provides an organic looking background and gives watercolors a luminous quality perfect for depicting the glowing ‘cobras’.

The insects are painted life-size, which required my smallest brush, a 000, and a steady hand. Believe me, I took a lot of breaks while painting them! From left to right, the insects are an American rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana) with a green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), a mariposa copper butterfly (Lycaena mariposa) and a West Coast tiger beetle (Cicindela bellissima). All of them are endemic to the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
Cobra Lily, Darlingtonia californica (12″ x 16″)
copyright 2023 Janene Walkky


  1. Kip Nordstrom says

    What a great blog, Janene! I think you should submit something to ASBA for their magazine…or one of their on line stories. I just watched one today about painting ferns, and was fascinated by Laura Silburn’s process…..Your painting is gorgeous!

  2. Thanks Janene. An interesting and wonderful description of your journey and process. Not surprised it took two years. Beautiful painting! What is the size of the final painting?

    • Hi Jeanne, I’m so glad that you like the painting! It’s on a 15″ x 19″ piece of vellum but the image will be 12″ x 16″ when matted. I made everything life-size, which was quite a challenge with the insects. I found a 000 brush to be very handy for them! Sorry that I didn’t see your post earlier, so it took me so long to answer. I usually get a notice when someone comments but it didn’t come though this time.

  3. Janene,
    I love this rendering. So beautiful, really catches the characteristics of the Darlingtonia. Sometime ago you told me about the Wayside Darlingtonia Natural Site on Oregon’s coast. We were visiting our daughter in Oregon this summer and went there. It was fantastic! Most people walked through it in 15 minutes. I was there for a long time, taking photos and just enjoying the experience of seeing the Darlingtonia in their native habitat. When I was there I knew I’d be doing a rendering inspired by the site.

    • Hi Donna, I am happy to hear that you got to see the Darlingtonia Wayside. I found that Darlingtonia are much more colorful in their natural habitat than when grown in a nursery pot, although I find it indispensable to have potted ones for close observation. I hope I get to see your Darlingtonia rendering sometime! Best wishes!

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