This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
No plant indigenous to the Pacific coast is more profoundly interesting than our Darling-Ionia Californica. The eye of the uncultured tourist or listless stock-man, no less than the studious naturalist, is at once fascinated when first its secret haunt is invaded in the fastnesses of the Sierra Nevada. A startling mass of green, yellow and crimson snake-heads, high raised in air and thrusting enormous, flaming, forked, curling tongues in every direction; a developed warning principle in the passive vegetable kingdom; a table-turner upon an old eternity-endured enemy; a coming plotter against an alert foe; an ingenious deluder of the unwary; a cruel murderer of the alarmed; an insatiate vengeance-taker; a bold, watchful, coldblooded, confederated assassin - the Darling-tonia forms a frightful spectre of the shadowy swamp, a horrid incubus of subsequent dreams !
" Abhorred shape ! That only grace of beauty takes, And brilliant hues to compass evil".
The paraphernalia which the Darlingtonia employs for attracting its victims is that of the saloon-keeper and the Cyprian: gaudy colors, ravishing odors, delicious sweets and delightful apartments. Its machinery for destroying them is that of the highwayman and the arch-fiend, deceitful traps, tripping obstacles for the feet, smooth declined planes, pointed dagger-thrusts from behind and silent wells of oblivious waters. What of enchantment and bewilderment is not furnished by the many-colored, revolute, honey-coated mustache, inviting to the spacious, vaulted, sugar-lined, many-windowed hood of the large, tall leaves. Each robust plant provides extra by sending up a long, slender, shining flag-staff and suspending a flaunting array of green, gold and crimson bunting, loosely enfolding nectaries of scented sweets, the curious flower of the Darlingtonia. Surely no member of the vegetable kingdom has so remarkable and unmistakable a mission, none steps so far out of its normal state to perform it, and none executes its trust with more ingenuity and success.
How the Darlingtonia is constructed and the mode and results of its warfare have been made the subject of searching expeditions and elaborate essays by Darwin, Hooker, Gray, Canby, and recently by a fellow-member of this academy, Harry Edwards. But I trust that an enthusiastic botanist, whose facilities for observation have been most fortunate, may be pardoned for presenting a few facts, gained, not without many different interviews of this notorious rogue, at various seasons of the year.
Living less than sixty miles from one of the few localities where the Darlingtonia is found in its best estate - Butterfly valley, near Quincy - I make yearly pilgrimages to its home, I camp by its battle ground, I conquer my repugnance to its hideous aspect and its cruel work, become accustomed in time to the stench of its rotting victims and I carefully study its wonderous mechanism. I note its aspects, and appliances varying with the seasons. I feed it with other food - flesh, fish, fowl and farinaceous diet, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, oils, saleratus, acids, etc. I witness the welcome of agreeable diet, the sickening effects of poisons. I ply it' with unusual captives - frogs, snakes, minnows, tadpoles - and note the arrival of new forces or the adaptation of combined powers to meet the new conditions. I recognize the tenacity of purpose, the almost intelligent use of means and freverently I humble my spirit before the revelation of infinite wisdom and power.
So of the watery fluid found in the lower portion of the petioles at times. Only at a certain season - just at the opening of the months above, may this phenomena be detected. The main veins on the inside of the tubes may then be seen gemmed from top to bottom with beads of a water-like secretion, which finally becomes so abundant as to flow down and form the wells of death. When the trap is favorably placed, or the quantity of the insects is unusually large, so that the gourmand gets his stomach full, or when fed by hand to the top, slowly, with flesh food, the fluid is secreted as demanded by the necessities of the case, and soon fills the tube to overflowing. Late in the season the water is evaporated and only the skeletons, wings, legs, etc., of insects remain - the bones of the carnal feast. Again the arrangement and different altitudes of the leaves are not at once observed - and cannot be made out clearly from the usual crowded specimens supplied to the herbariums of the world. Only young, vigorous, solitary plants display the typical plan of growth - a plan conformed to the wants, or rather, the wicked designs of the Darlingtonhv, and here wo are brought round to the solution of the question under particular description.
I have reported these observations so often and fully, that every year brings increasing inquiries from thinkers in distant lands, asking to have this or that mystery cleared up; or to know if this or that phenomenon is connected with the history of the famous plant. One of the closest questioners is W. M. Canby, of Wilmington, Del. The facts elicited formed the theme of a most exhaustive essay, that was read before the American Academy of Sciences and reprinted in most of the languages of Europe.
Was Canby's last demand. It will be the especial object of this essay to answer this question.
To discuss this subject thoroughly and with the expectation of arriving at the truth, we must begin where the zoologist does with his puzzles - with embryology, the infant state. The seed of the Darlingtonia is a brownish, hairy, Indian-club shaped object, about three lines long. It would be a bur, but for the flaccid, hollow, barbless hairs. Thrown out in hundreds by the large, bursting pericarps, they fall upon the running water or mossy carpeting of the bog. A seed here and there is caught by its hair in favorable conditions and sends down a tiny radicle in search of a foundation, whereon to erect a unique charnel-house of many tall, feeding funnels. The precursor of the prospective phalanx of rapacious, cylindrical stomachs, is a very innocent looking little affair.