Words like unusual, peculiar, wonderful, strange, bizarre, interesting, and, of course, unique are used to characterise welwitschia. It’s one of the few things on the planet that can legitimately call itself unique. There’s nothing else like it.
Not only is this plant something out of this world but it is also recognised as Namibia’s national flower. Read on to learn more about this interesting flora.
Two leaves, a stem base, and roots make up an adult welwitschia. That concludes our discussion. It is the only plant in the world with two permanent leaves. They are the plant’s initial leaves from when it was a seedling, and they never shed and continue to grow. They’re leathery, large, and strap-shaped, and they’re frayed and torn as they sit on the ground. The stem is robust, low, woody, hollowed-out, and obconical in form. It reaches a height of roughly 500 mm. The tallest example is 1.8 metres high in the Messum Mountains, and another is 1.2 metres tall and 8.7 metres broad in the Welwitschia Flats near the Swakop River.
Welwitschias are 500-600 years old on average, according to carbon dating, while some of the largest examples are considered to be 2000 years old. Their lifetime is believed to be between 400 and 1500 years. The summer months are when the plant grows the most.
There are male and female plants, and the sexes are separated. Female cones are blue-green, bigger, and tapering, whereas male cones are salmon-colored, tiny, oblong cone-like structures. They bloom from mid-summer until late-autumn. A sterile, modified pistil-like structure discharges nectar from a modified stigma-like structure on the male flower. The stigmas of the female cone are revealed, and she also generates a nectar droplet.
The IUCN Red List has not given Welwitschia a rating. It is still prevalent in its natural environment and exhibits variety, indicating that it is not yet extinct. Despite the fact that they are neither endangered nor scarce, they are legally protected.
Distribution And Habitat
Welwitschia mirabilis grows in isolated communities in the Namib Desert, along a small stretch that runs from the Kuiseb River in central Namibia to Mossamedes in southern Angola for roughly 1000 kilometres. The plants are rarely found more than 100 to 150 kilometres from the shore, and their distribution follows the fog belt.
Welwitschia is an ecologically specialised plant that has evolved to thrive in dry climates with frequent fog. When the cool north-flowing Benguela Current collides with the hot air coming off the Namib Desert, a thick fog forms. The fog begins to form late at night and normally dissipates by 10 a.m. The leaves are huge and wide, and they droop down. This is an excellent strategy for it to use condensate water to hydrate its own roots. It also possesses many stomata on both leaf surfaces, and it was formerly assumed that fog-water was taken up directly through these stomata, but this has been disproved.
Despite the fact that the fog is projected to give 50 mm of yearly rainfall, the plants still require additional sources. During the summer, rainfall in this area is sporadic and extremely low, averaging just 10-100 mm. Some years, there is no rain at all. The plants are usually found along dry watercourses or in areas with increased rainfall, and they can also be found on rocky outcrops. All of these ecosystems lead to a second source of subsurface water. The plant has a lengthy taproot that allows it to reach the water below.
Other environmental adaptations are also fascinating. The biggest plants are located in the south, where there is the least rainfall, whereas the plants in the north, where there is more rainfall, are considerably smaller. The most plausible cause for this is that northern plants must compete with savanna vegetation, whilst southern plants have little or no competition. Another intriguing adaptation is the corky bark, which may be the consequence of millions of years of exposure to the grass fires that are so prevalent in the savanna.
During droughts, antelope and rhino chew the leaves for their juice and spit out the stiff fibres. The soft section along the groove is also eaten by them. This, however, does not harm the plant since it merely grows out of the meristematic tissue.
People used to eat the core of the plant, especially the female plant, in the past. It’s reported to be delicious raw or baked in hot ashes, which is how it received its Herero moniker of onyanga, which means “desert onion.”
Derivation Of Name
Friedrich Welwitsch, an Austrian botanist, adventurer, and medical practitioner, discovered Welwitschia mirabilis in the Namib Desert in southern Angola in 1859. According to legend, he was so taken aback by his discoveries that he knelt down next to it and just looked. In 1861, the renowned artist and adventurer Thomas Baines discovered a plant in the dry bank of the Swakop River in Namibia. In 1862, Welwitsch submitted the first Welwitschia material to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Director of Kew. Despite Welwitsch’s recommendation that it be named Tumboa, its original Angolan name, Hooker described and named it in his honour. Mirabilis, the species name, meaning magnificent or wonderful in Latin. The specific name was then modified to bainesii to honour both individuals involved in its discovery, however the current and valid name remains mirabilis, according to botanical nomenclature regulations.
— Bronwyn Reynolds, Fizzin