Rare & unusual plants

Plants for the Southwest & Living Stones nursery have many rare and unusual plant types. Here is one of the weirdest!

Welwitschia mirabilis

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Welwitschia mirabilis  is the only member in the family Welwitschiaceae and is one of the more bizarre plants on the planet.  It was named after Friedrich Welwitsch, an Austrian naturalist who explored Africa in the 1800’s.  Welwitschia is the most incredible plant that he encountered.  It is native to a strip of land about 50 miles wide and over 500 miles in length along the coast of the Namib Desert.
In habitat, these plants get less than two inches of rainfall per year.  But because of a cold, coastal ocean current, this area also gets a regular fog, adding almost another two inches of precipitation.  As a result, these plants in nature are slow growing and can live to be 1500 years old!!  They are coning plants with male and female cones on separate plants. (Female cones above right; male cones above left and lower left.)  They produce only two true leaves in their lifetime and those leaves continually grow from the base, all the while, dying back and drying off at the tips.

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In cultivation, Welwitschia mirabilis used to be considered difficult, so they were mostly underwatered to prevent rot and usually died from underwatering.  These are not succulent plants, so should not be allowed to dry completely at any time.  During the warm season, if under very bright light (full sun in Tucson is just a little too much–famous understatement!) they can be watered copiously, if potted in a well drained cactus type mix.  It also used to be thought that they must have a deep pot to thrive, but it is now known that they will live quite nicely in a standard depth pot.  Like any plant, they will slow their growth when pot bound.  The seedlings at right are only a few months old and are  in 2″ X 10″ tube pots. Next year they will be potted into standard 5-gallon containers, about 10″ X 14″ for the next many years.