Welwitschia mirabilis is one of the most curious and bizarre plants of the plant kingdom; in the course of its very long lifetime (by some accounts the oldest plants may live to about 2000 years), it will only produce two mature leaves, which lengthen seasonally as the plant grows. In established plants in habitat, the leaves will eventually become quite long (sometimes in excess of 20 feet), becoming split and tattered towards their ends. Eventually, the leaf tips die back and break away as the plant grows, limiting their ultimate length. The leaves are thick and quite tough, some authorities report that they are leathery, but in the few mature plants which I have examined, the leaves were much tougher, more like cardboard or wood, (very similar to the leaves of the "Cardboard Palm", but even tougher).
While not generally regarded as a succulent plant, the roots of this species can be massive, and almost certainly can serve as a water reserve in times of drought. These roots are variable, in some populations, they may be beet-
The stems are quite short, shaped more or less like an inverted cone, and are hollow: in very old plants, these reminiscent of a hollow tree stump, with the two leaves growing on the ridges. In most plants, these are fairly short, usually less than 2 feet in height, but in one of the largest plants, the stem is over 5 feet tall.
This species is dioecious, with male and female flowers being produced on different plants: the male cones produce pollen, and a structure which produces a nectar; the female cones ultimately produce seed, and also exude a very sweet nectar (with approximately 50% sugar content). Unlike most other cone bearing plants (which are typically wind pollinated) Welwitschia mirabilis appears to pollinated by insects -
Plants grow in isolated communities in the Namib Desert within 90 miles of the Atlantic coast along a 620 mile long strip from southern Angola through north-
This is not a common plant in cultivation: ultimately, the large size of the plant, and its huge taproot will make it unsuitable for most collections. Even so, seeds and seedlings are becoming increasingly available through specialist mail order, and online nurseries: seedlings can be maintained for many years before they grow to unmanageable sizes, so at least for a time, it is possible to grow one of nature's great curiosities in our home collections. It is essential to provide a gritty/sandy mineral based soil; even as a seedling, this species will produce a substantial taproot, and will require a particularly deep pot to accommodate this. As the plant grows larger, I have seen growers use chimney liners, and drainage tiles to provide a very long pot for a very long tap root. As a seedling, this species will require evenly moist soils through the greater portion of the summer growing season -
This species has a limited appeal as a house plant, and will probably never be common in cultivation -