Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Crazy Plants: Welwitschia

A very unusual plant: Welwitschia mirabilis
There is no other plant in the world quite like Welwitchia. The entire plants consists of only two permanent leaves, a stem, and roots. The leaves are never shed and grow throughout the plant's life, getting torn with age, such as seen in the plant above. The stem's growth is different from any other plant, and produces an "obconical" shape. Lifespan is believed to be up to 1500 years. The sexes are separate, with the salmon-colored cones of each gender producing nectar to attract insects. It isn't known what insect pollinates this unusual plant. Seeds are wind-distributed and can only sprout after heavy rain. There is much disagreement as to what exactly this plant is, due to its strange characteristics, and as such it is difficult to classify.

Welwitschia is only found in the Namib desert, where they plants are protected by law. It relies on regular fog that washes the area, providing the plants enough moisture to survive in the otherwise very arid environment. It also has a very large taproot, which can provide underground water to the plant. During drought, animals such as rhino and antelope will chew on the leaves for moisture. This plant was once eaten, and is said to be rather tasty, earning one of its names: "onyanga," meaning "onion of the desert."

These odd plants are believe to be relics of the Jurassic. Though somewhat difficult, Welwitschia can be cultivated.

Source is PlantZAfrica. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

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