20 Aug 2021

Creeping curiosities – Welwitschia mirabilis

Alex Summers

These unusual plants only have two leaves, they grow continuously throughout their life, creeping and curling along the desert floor like strangely beautiful, overgrown fingernails. They are rare and grow in the deserts of Namibia and Angola in Southwest Africa, and now too in a wetter part of Wales (undercover)!

In the National Botanic Garden of Wales, Alex Summers, our new head of the Great Glasshouse has been given three batches of precious seeds, one batch has germinated which is incredibly exciting for our team. These seeds could have a long life ahead of them as Welwitschia’s often live up to 600 years but can reach beyond 1500 years in age. These ancient plants are related to conifers with pines being their closest relatives.

In the garden, we are germinating Welwitschia mirabilis seed from a parent plant grown by Marloth and Herre in 1926. Hans Herre became the first curator of Stellenbosch Botanic Garden in South Africa, which is where the mother plant to our seed is housed. Marloth wrote the Flora of South Africa, a six-volume work, cataloguing the phenomenal plant diversity of this country.

The Glasshouse team sowed the seed in two parts sand and one part grit and placed them on a heated bench at 25°C, after seven days the first seedlings had germinated. They have now been moved to the Tropical Propagation Glasshouse where the temperature is kept at 24°C during the day.

The taproot is like a piece of thread so once damaged the plant often dies. When the seedlings get a little more established, we will pot them on, into their final pot for life, which could be over 600 years!