Welwitschia mirabilis Hook.f.
Welwitschia is named for its discoverer, Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch, and it is a living fossil among plants. It holds the unusual distinction of being the sole member of its genus and its family. It is a gymnosperm—a cone-bearing plant like pines and spruces. Welwitschias are found only in the Namib desert in Namibia and Angola, along the Kuiseb River and the Atlantic Ocean. They are extremely long-lived, 400 to 1500 years, rarely reaching 2000 years in age.
Identification: This remarkable species reminds me of a huge agave plant that was doing reasonably well right up until a meteor struck it, but looking like the victim of an unfortunate explosion is simply the way this plant operates. Botanists describe it as “unlike any known plant on earth.” Flattened almost to the ground, it has a short, woody trunk from which two, only two, straplike leaves emerge. Actually, welwitschias aren’t always that flat—the tallest recorded specimen is 6' (1.8 m) high. The leaves grow continuously, twisting and curling and dying at the tips, looking limp and listless in the blistering sun. These plants are not small, easily a couple of car lengths in diameter. Female cones are reddish, with conical or pyramid-shaped tips. Male cones, purplish brown, are narrow ovals in shape, 1¾-4" (5-11 cm) long, rarely reaching 12-18" (30-45 cm) long, depending on the subspecies.
Welwitschia mirabilis on the South African National Biodiversity Institute's web site, plantzafrica.com
Welwitschia mirabilis on Wikipedia
Welwitschia mirabilis on The Gymnosperm Database
Welwitschia mirabilis on Wikimedia Commons (many great photos)
Welwitschia mirabilis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.