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 Welwitschia mirabilis

Plant with visible stem from Messum Crater, Namibia.

Author:   Joseph Dalton Hooker, 1862
Family:  Welwitschiaceae
Origin:  Namib, Namibia/Angola
Soil:  Grit - Mix
Water:  Minimum - Medium
Sun:  Maximum
Thickness:  50 centimetres
Height:  1,5 meter
Cone:  Yellow-Red-Brown
Propagate:  Seeds
Names:  Tree Tumbo
Synonyms:  Welwitschia bainesii, Élie Abel Carrière
By mistake: Welwitschia mirabili, Welwitschia mirabils

Me and a giant plant  from Messum Crater, Namibia.
Photo by Ferdinand Poilodan.

The carrot-like root ends in a fine, very long root, seeking for underground water. It is said not to survive re-potting, unless a lot of soil is preserved.
I have no problems at all!

My plant have been re-potted five times. Stop growing for a month, and kick in again like nothing have happened.

The root of a four year old seedling, re-potted for the third time. Not that pole shaped and extreme long root, as the roomers claims. The leaves are 20 centimetres total, it now thrives in a six centimetre shallow pot.

This seedling have done real fine, growing in this disposable wineglass. Here, it is half a year. I had it for five in the glass, till I gave it away.

And is still doing fine after 15 months.

And three years. No problems at all! Same soil. Just sitting in my kitchen window without any heating or artificial light. Down to 12C at wintertime.

Seedlings just when the true leaves emerges. Plants for tissue culture.

The roots after half a year are long, plentiful but thin.

Re-potted, and doing fine. One root was cut down to 2 centimetres - no problem!

The seed leaf is still visible.


The only member of the Welwitschiaceae family was described by Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1862. It's only found in the Namib Desert; Angola and Namibia. Well-drained grit, no or little water (mist is fine) and lots of sun will keep the large plants alive. However, they need some water to actually grow. The swollen stem can grow to 50 centimetres in diameter and the two leaves to 3 meters (in theory; to several hundreds of meters, if taken care of). The "flowers" are yellow to red cones.

The genera is named after Austrian Friedrich Welwitsch,1806-1872. The species name means 'wonderful'.

It was discovered in 1860 by Austrian Friedrich Welwitsch,1806-1872. It is a dioecious plant, and can get op to maybe 2000 years old. It will only set cones when the temperature reaches 38 C. It will never get more than to leaves (after the seed-leaves), and they grow up to 15 cm a year. The widest known is 180 cm wide, and the longest 6 meter, but only half of it lives. It's 1,5 cm thick. The root can reach down 30 meters. 

Read my own project on growing Welwitschia from seeds.       And in Danish, if you prefer! 

In short: Despite it only rain 10-50 millimetres each year in some of the areas the plants are found, they do need quite some water to grow, and especially the seedlings will only survive, given a constant moist soil.

It is my theory that these plants only grow in the El Nino years, and new seedlings are only established in extreme El Nino periods of several years. I base this on the fact that plants in an area seems to be i-e. 200, 500 and 1500 years old, and seedling or even small plants are not present at all. They simply survive the years of draught on mist, given their size is sufficient. Further more, it seems like they thrive with a constantly moist soil, given the temperature is above 20-25C. Then, they are quite easy to maintain, and they add considerable to their size.

Plenty of photos from the wild on: Namibia.

Typical habitat right outside Messum Crater, Namibia.

Close-up of w
ild male cone in flower.

Wild male cone in flower.

The stem are visible on some plants.

An other habitat photo from Namibia.

And the female cones, early stage.

Female cone flowering.

And ripen.

From Copenhagen Botanical Garden. Growing in a heated bed in the orchid house.

No one have done it before, as fare as I can detect, but I succeeded: Tissue culture!

First day, 14 days, 30 days, 45 days. Would evolve faster, given higher temperature and lighter soil.

Kingdom SubKingdom SuperDivision Division SubDivision Class SubClass Order Family Genus Species
PLANTAE Tracheophyta Spermatophytes


Gnetophytina Welwitschiopsida


Welwitschiales Welwitschiaceae Welwitschia mirabilis