Jon Rebman | Cactus Evolution

Saturday, July 9th at 10 am PST

Matt Opel, PhD | Welwitschia


Welwitschia is an anomalous cone-bearing plant from the Namib Desert in coastal southern Africa, a lone survivor of a largely vanished lineage, clinging to existence in the oldest desert region on Earth. Its peculiar form—essentially the decapitated stump of a tree with a pair of leaves that must last for the entire centuries-long life of the plant—and equally puzzling ecology—how can those expansive leaves make sense in the dry moonscapes of the Namib?—have inspired wonder and speculation from generations of botanists.

Growers of cacti and succulents have similarly been inspired by the prospect of cultivating this vegetable marvel, and a rich lore of horticultural techniques and legends has accumulated around Welwitschia. Dr Matthew Opel will attempt to demystify the science and cultivation of Welwitschia, without taking away all of the romance. He will describe the unique form and growth of the plant and cover important aspects of its ecology in its natural environment. Knowledge of the evolution and relationships of Welwitschia has expanded greatly in recent years, resulting in the downfall of hypotheses about its supposed affinity with flowering plants, and exciting developments around the possible existence of two Welwitschia subspecies. Finally, Matt will provide practical advice for propagating and growing Welwitschia and debunk some of the less-than-useful Welwitschia cultivation myths, so that attendees should have a better chance of keeping the strangest of all conifers in their own greenhouse.

Who is Matthew Opel?

Matthew Opel grew up in Westchester County, NY, where he developed an early love of plants, gardening and the natural world; one of his first words was “pachysandra.” He became interested in Lithops—the “living stones”—and other desert plants after visits to the New York Botanical Garden, and eventually went on to study biology and botany at Cornell University. Matt received a doctorate from the University of Connecticut after completing studies of the anatomy and evolution of Conophytum, a genus of African succulent plants. In the course of his research he spent three winters in South Africa, where he discovered a new species of succulent plant that was named Tylecodon opelii in his honor in 2011.

Matt is currently employed as a collections scientist at the University of Connecticut, at the Plant Biodiversity Conservatory and Research Core. He has written about desert plants for specialist journals in the US, the UK and South Africa, and given lectures on botanical topics to a wide range of audiences. He is the current vice-president and past president of the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society.

Important Details:

Cactus and Succulent Society of America
CSSA Webinar. Saturday, July 9th 10:00 am PST

Raw Registration Link:

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