Welwitschia belongs to the group of gymnosperm plants. Due to unique characteristics, botanists classified Welwitschia into special family (called Welwitschiaceae) which does not contain any other species.
This unusual plants can be found only in Namib Desert in Namibia and Angola and sometimes are called "Living Fossil" because they exists 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 stem, two leaves and root. 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.
- Largest recorded specimen managed to reach 6 feet (1.8 m) in height and 28 feet (8.5 m) in length.
- Welwitschia has short but very strong, wooden stem without branches. Stem is hollow and has the shape of inverted cone.
- Welwitschia develops two leaves which grow continually throughout the whole life of a plant. Leaves are broad, leathery and shaped like 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 long taproot that is able to reach water hidden deeply underground. Due to lack of rain and available water, plant absorbs majority of water from the fog and dew.
- Welwitschia is dioecious plant which means that each plant develops either male or female reproductive organs. Male plant produces smaller salmon-colored cones. 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 9 months after fertilization. Degradation of female cones results in release of seed. Seed has wings which facilitate dispersal by wind.
- Seed can remain viable (able to germinate) during extended period of time. Heavy rains are required for successful germination. Only few seed 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. Damaged plant usually manages to recuperate.
- Welwitschia is also known as "Onion of Desert" because indigenous people eat core of the plant. It can be use either raw or as a part of cooked meal.
- Welwitschia is very old plant. It originates from 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
- Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus
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