For those who prefer a shorter route to see Welwitschia it could be worth your while to take the D2303 until you reach the Messum River where some of the biggest and best preserved specimen of this wonder plant are growing. One of the biggest Welwitschia can be seen on this route.
The plant is endemic to the Namib Desert and some of them are believed to be 1 000 to 1 500 years old. Although grouped with the pine trees, it also possesses characteristics of other plant species.
An interesting feature of the plant is the flat saucer-like crown, which is dark-brown and woody and resembles an inverted elephant’s foot.
Although it sometimes appears otherwise, the plant has only two leaves, which grow continually from the crown, even in the absence of rain. The leaves are apparently able to take up fog-water, although the root, which extends three metres into the ground, is well adapted to find any available moisture in the gravel where the plant lives. Though the annual growth of a leaf in a dry year can be 10 to 20 cm, it can grow up to10cm a month during a wet year.
The male and female plants are totally separate. The females have the larger cones, which bear the seeds, while the male cones are smaller but more numerous.
The ways of pollination are not precisely clear yet, though it is believed that wasps and other insects play an active role.
Two beetles live in symbiosis with the Welwitschia. The most common inhabitant is the Probergrothius sexpunctatis, or the Welwitschia bug, a yellow bug with black spots, which sucks sap from the plant.
The Reduviid bug preys again on the nymph of the P. sexpunctatis, feeding upon the juices of the sap-sucking bug. These beetles may also play a role in the pollination of the plant.