|Main photograph of a chameleon on Welwitschia mirabilis by ©Paul van Schalkwyk. This photo was taken at the Messum Crater. Chameleons are attracted to insects which can be found on the Welwitschia and are thus a common sight on the plant.
|Text by Jana-Mari Smith
A book celebrating the unique living fossil plant the Welwitschia mirabilis was launched in Windhoek yesterday. According to one commentator, the Welwitschia is not only the national plant of Namibia, but it also represents the spirit of Namibians, as it stands for “fortitude and tenacity”. The book was described as a true encyclopedia on the Welwitschia.
Uncrowned Monarch of the Namib was written and created by Ernst van Jaarsveld, world-renowned horticulturist, and Uschi Pond. The large, beautifully laid out coffee table book took more than two years to complete, with Pond as the driving force behind the design.
The launch took place at the Namibia Scientific Society where both van Jaarsveld and Uschi recounted the journey of the book. The book is uniquely bi-lingual, encompassing English and German in a clean-cut, well thought out manner. Pond was at the reigns of the creative process and her passion for design as well as nature shines through.
It is an illustrated guide that provides in-depth insight into the plant, which is endemic in the Namib desert stretching from Namibia to Angola.
According to the authors, the Welwitschia mirabilis is “the most peculiar and advanced due to its amazing botanically engineered life form with an incredible capacity to survive the Namib desert environment”.
Van Jaarsveld noted at the launch that the Welwitschia is unique both botanically and ecologically. It is a plant which has “stripped down to basics” in its successful battle to survive the harsh environment where it lives. According to him, the plant is “certainly the most stunning desert plant in the world”.
The authors pointed out that another unique facet is that the Welwitschia represents a group of plants which flourished on earth some 125 million years ago. The plant is estimated to grow to about 500 to 1500 years old. Fossils have been discovered in north Brazil, indicating the widespread presence of the plant millions of years ago. Now, its habitat has shrunken drastically and Namibia is home to the largest population of these majestic plants.
The book was created to satisfy the curiosity of both professional and amateur botanists alike. Its chapters include information on its botanical background, ecology, habitat, history, evolutionary history and much more.
What sets this book apart from other scientific botanical books, is its wide variety of photographs (more than 400), including beautiful illustrations and paintings. It truly is a book which is as unique as the subject it explores.