Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Survivor From The Namib Desert

This beautiful passage from Robert Krulwich's essay on the plant Welwitschia mirabilis, a survivor, the last representative of its genus, isolated and endemic to the Namib desert in South Africa:

Welwitschia, when you finally get to see one, sits apart. It's very alone. All its relatives, its cousins, nieces, nephews have died away. It is the last remaining plant in its genus, the last in its family, the last in its order. "No other organism on earth can lay such a claim to being 'one of its kind,' " writes biologist Richard Fortey. It comes from a community of plants that thrived more than 200 million years ago. All of them slowly vanished, except for Welwitschia. It has survived by doing very little, very, very slowly — sipping little wafts of dew in the early mornings, otherwise minding its own business, as the big, busy world goes by.

With much recent attention given to the question of de-extinction i.e. bringing back extinct species, a more urgent focus needs to be on species and populations which are alive today and hanging by a thread. Genetics will play a role here too along with old fashioned conservation of the ecology in which these creatures persist despite all odds.


  1. I so agree! There are plenty of living species that need our attention. Welwitschias are especially wonderful -- to have a glimpse of life 200 million years ago is awesome. I hope to see them someday.

  2. yes as a botanist I can imagine that this is of special interest to you!