Welwitschia belongs to the group of gymnosperm plants. Due to unique characteristics, botanists classified Welwitschia into a special family (called Welwitschiaceae), which does not contain any other species.
These unusual plants can be found only in the Namib Desert in Namibia and Angola and sometimes are called "Living Fossil" because they exist on the planet for millions of years. Welwitschia is prone to fungal diseases, and it is often targeted by desert animals. Luckily, this plant is still abundant in the wild, and it is not on the list of endangered species.
- Welwitschia consists of a stem, two leaves, and roots. This plant usually grows 20 inches (50 cm) in height and 6.6 feet (2 m) in length. Larger plants are often seen in areas where rainfalls are rare.
- The largest recorded specimen managed to reach 6 feet (1.8 m) in height and 28 feet (8.5 m) in length.
- Welwitschia has a short but very strong, wooden stem without branches. The stem is hollow and has the shape of an inverted cone.
- Welwitschia develops two leaves which grow continually throughout the whole life of a plant. Leaves are broad, leathery, and shaped like a belt.
- Leaves become frayed and look like a bunch of worn-out ribbons after decades of exposure to harsh weather conditions, strong wind, and constant abrasion of the sandy ground.
- Welwitschia has a long taproot that can reach water hidden deep underground. Due to a lack of rain and available water, the plant absorbs the majority of water from the fog and dew.
- Welwitschia is a dioecious plant, which means that each plant develops either male or female reproductive organs. The male plant produces smaller salmon-colored cones. The female plant produces larger bluish-green cones.
- Flowering takes place from summer to autumn. Both male and female plants produce large quantities of nectar, which attracts wasps, tree bugs and flies and ensures pollination.
- Female cones reach maturity nine months after fertilization. Degradation of female cones results in the release of seed. The seed has wings that facilitate dispersal by wind.
- Seed can remain viable (able to germinate) during an extended period. Heavy rains are required for successful germination. Only a few seeds will germinate. The rest will be lost due to fungal diseases and because they are part of a diet of desert animals.
- Antelopes and rhinos eat leaves and soft parts of the stem to obtain water. The damaged plant usually manages to recuperate.
- Welwitschia is also known as "Onion of Desert" because indigenous people eat the core of the plant. It can be used either raw or as a part of a cooked meal.
- Welwitschia is a very old plant. It originates from the Jurassic period when the gymnosperms were the most dominant plants on the Earth.
- Even though it looks like a tough task, the plants can be easily cultivated as a houseplant.
- Welwitschia usually lives from 300 to 500 years in the wild. Some plants can survive over 2000 years.
- Back to genus Welwitschia
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