Discovered in 1859 by the Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch (hence its name), Welwitschia mirabilis is endemic to the Nambian desert and is considered a living fossil. Most significant is its exceptional longevity, as it can live for more than 2,000 years. It only has two long leaves, which do not stop growing throughout the life of the plant and can reach 15 meters.
To protect itself from the sun in the hot areas where it lives, the Welwitschia mirabilis uses its long leaves, which are in fact the longest in the plant kingdom . The surface of these structures covers the plant and thus allows it to live at temperatures as high as 65 ° Celsius. In addition, they keep the soil where it grows cold and moist.
Over the years, its thick trunk expands to form a concave disk of about one meter from which branching systems that contain pollen and seeds sprout. These shoots rise above the leaves. Usually only one seed develops within each cone and is blown away by the wind.
Although it can live more than 2,000 years it is believed that some of the largest plants could be more than 3,000 years old, whose leaves would not have stopped growing since the beginning of the Iron Age .
It is considered one of the rarest plant species in the world. It looks like an octopus, and according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications , researchers have uncovered some of its genetic secrets, which appear to be related to its peculiar environmental environment.
Approximately 86 million years ago, after an error in cell division, the entire Welwitschia genome doubled during a time of increased aridity and prolonged drought in the region (when possibly the Namib Desert itself formed), it reveals. Tao Wan, a botanist at the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen and lead author of the study .
Leitch, a co-author of the study, adds that the duplicated genes are also freed from their original functions, assuming new ones. However, having more genetic material comes at a cost, says Wan, “the most basic activity for life is DNA replication,” he says, “so if you have a large genome, you use more energy to sustain life,” especially in such a harsh environment.
The study also found that Welwitschia had other hidden genetic adjustments in its leaves . The leaf grows from the ends, but the original growth tip of the Welwitschia dies and instead the leaves emerge from a vulnerable area of the plant anatomy called the basal meristem, which supplies fresh cells to the growing plant, he says. Wan.
Can we grow it in our garden? According to cactus.com , to have a healthy Welwitschia mirabilis you have to plant it in a large, deep pot with a substrate that drains very well. In fact, it is highly recommended to simply use pumice alone or mixed with washed river sand. In addition, you have to water little: once every 10-15 days in summer and monthly the rest of the year.
However, it will be useless to have it in the best substrate if the weather is not good. The maximum temperature can be 40º C without problem, but the minimum temperature should not drop below 0º. In the event that it does, we will have to protect it in a heated greenhouse. It is therefore not a very suitable plant for any climate.
It is estimated that there are almost nine million species of plants on the entire planet . Each one has characteristics and properties that make them unique. The vast majority of these (approximately 6.5 million) are terrestrial, but more than 2 million species are of aquatic origin.
One of the most widespread and accepted theories is that which states that terrestrial plants evolved from green algae between 500 and 600 million years ago. Assuming this to be correct, the first came into the world at some point in the Ordovician period. These covered rocks and surfaces near rivers and other small seasonal water formations. Progressively , they adapted to the ground and began to reproduce by spores.
Vegetation evolved to diversify and has reigned for centuries throughout the planet. Despite the fact that many specimens and plant species became extinct, either due to the human factor or due to the passage of time and its variant ecosystem, hundreds of curious and strange plant organisms still inhabit among us.