Appearances can sometimes be deceptive: what may look like a mangled giant cabbage run over by a truck is most likely to be Namibia’s most remarkable desert survivor, the aptly named welwitschia mirabilis – “mirabilis” being Latin for marvellous or wonderful, while “Welwitsch” was the surname of the Austrian botanist who stumbled over some in the mid-nineteenth century. Featuring on Namibia’s coat of arms and nicknamed the “living fossil”, the welwitschia can live over 1500 years; its most celebrated specimen – rumoured to be one of the oldest and largest – is located inland from Swakopmund and attracts thousands of visitors annually, though the plant’s withered and dishevelled appearance can be an initial disappointment.

Welwitschias are endemic to the arid, coastal gravel plains that extend 1000km northwards from the Kuiseb River south of Walvis Bay to southern Angola. They survive on very little water and some years get none at all.

Strangely, the welwitschia – a dioecious plant with both female and male specimens – only possesses two grey-green leaves, which shrivel and shred over the years. Though the leaves can reach 2 to 4 metres in length, this extraordinary plant rarely grows higher than 1.5m.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Namibia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

27 awe-inspiring pictures of Namibia

27 awe-inspiring pictures of Namibia

Namibia has some of the world's most astonishing landscapes. It's home to the world's oldest desert, a long and undeveloped coastline and national parks that te…

31 May 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
Quiz: can you locate these national parks?

Quiz: can you locate these national parks?

National parks are some of the world's most awe-inspiring natural places, taking in mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and forests (sometimes all in the same one…

02 Jul 2015 • Rebecca Hallett help Quiz
In pictures: traditional dress around the world

In pictures: traditional dress around the world

The Sari, India Ostensibly the simplest item of clothing possible – a single length of fabric, up to nine metres long – the sari is also one of the world…

02 Feb 2015 • Alice Park camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month