The pygmy forests along Mendocino’s coast are utterly fascinating. The place is an ecological wonderland of tiny, gnarled trees growing in depauperate podzols among rhododendrons and mosses. Rain is far more common than blue skies and the temperature rarely deviates far from a balmy 15°C. But that isn’t what first drew me to the place nor is it why I keep going back. No, what I find most intriguing about this terrace of acidic, sandy soil and stunted vegetation is that it is perfectly tailored to the environmental requirements of a number of carnivorous plants.

Drosera rotundifolia is a native fixture of the Sphagnum hummocks that dot the landscape but has been joined in the past few decades by a number of other stalkers of legged protein. Beginning in the 1970s, a group of Bay Area horticulturalists began augmenting the native flora with carnivores of their choosing, transforming a portion of the pygmy forest into a bizarre sort of botanic garden. They toyed with plantings of Darlingtonia and Sarracenia alongside swales of Drosera binata, exotic Drosera slackii, and even Heliamphora.

While some of the introductions formed small colonies over time or failed to procreate at all, others fecundated with wild abandon. Drosera capensis and Utricularia subulata proved particularly virile in this environment, spreading at an entirely unseemly rate.

As it so happens, this particular section of the pygmy forest is owned by The Nature Conservancy who oppose the introduction non-native species on their lands. By 2008, they had had enough of this little carnivorous plant folly and began removing what they could.

Invasive species removal sign

Unfortunately, it seems that little can be removed. When I passed through Albion in early February, the only plants I noted as missing were the Sarracenia and Dionea. The above sign is planted amidst in a sea of dry D. capensis scapes.

Pinguicula lusitanica at Albion Bog

The annual species seem particularly immovable. Pinguicula lusitanica had spread to areas I hadn’t seen them before.

Lichens surround a Drosera spatulata plant

Drosera spatulata continue to cling to a happy bright plot bordering a sea of Lichens.

Small clump of Drosera peltata var. foliosa

Drosera peltata var. foliosa is doing particularly well along the sandy trail and even near the road.

Drosera pygmaea growing in sand at Albion Bog

The D. pygmaea are out and about, although not exactly in force at this time of year.

Submerged Utricularia subulata leaves

U. subulata is everywhere. Here it’s growing in a shallow stream.

Darlingtonia californica growing the side of a log

The Darlingtonia are as vigorous as ever. I’m surprised they are still there though; it seems like they could be removed with relative ease.

Aerial view of Darlingtonia californica

Odd necrosis, isn’t it? Most of the Darlingtonia are afflicted by pests - primarily scale and thrips - as can often be expected on cultivated plants.

Semi-dormant Drosera rotundifolia

But what is this? D. rotundifolia? This species is a rare sight in the summer months, let alone February.

Sandy path at Albion Bog, Mendocino County, California

Further Reading