Darlingtonia are herbaceous perennials. The leaves, which usually grow upright, form hollow pitchers that terminate in a dome from which 2 flaps of tissue, the fangs, project. The domed pitchers arise from a fibrous rooted rhizome. When the plants are mature the rhizome sends out stolons from which new plants develop. (Fig. 3-19) The pitchers have an unusual growth feature in that they twist just enough as they grow so that the opening of the pitcher is facing outward from the center of the plant. Each plant has from 5-15 leaves and usually 1 scape bearing a solitary flower.
The pitcher-shaped leaves may exceed lengths of 1 yd. (0.9 m) and terminate in a dome whose opening is to the front and below the dome. From the front edge of the opening hangs a fang-like appendage which presumably acts as a landing ramp for the prey. There are translucent areas on the dome called fenestrations which, to an insect inside the pitcher, may look like openings to the outside. (Photo 3-10) Juvenile leaves which are produced by seedlings, by side shoots from a rhizome and by cuttings lack the forked appendage and dome. Leaf color varies from green to yellowish-green mixed with red and maroon. In intense light the whole plant may be a solid maroon color.
The Darlingtonia flower consists of 5 long yellow-green sepals, 5 purple-pink petals, about 15 stamens and a 5-lobed compound pistil. It is pendulous on a tall scape which has numerous pink-lavender bracts that become papery and abscise as the ovary of the flower matures into a dry fruit containing seeds. (Fig. 3-20)
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