Like an aged aunt pickled in gin…

If you’re going to name drop quotes on beauty, there are perhaps no bigger guns than the Greek philosophers; Socrates called it “a short-lived tyranny;” Theocritus, “an ivory mischief;”

In a world obsessed with beauty, males and females are pathologically compelled to preen, pluck and prune themselves to perfection. Poppy-peacocks! These people aren’t your rare orchids.

How short-lived all the fuzz about vanity is when you read about other aberrances in the natural world.

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Enter the Welwitschia plant, which unabashedly grotesque and drabby, owns only 2 leaves and lives for 2000 years. That means that it was spreading its ugly green tendrils when Jesus was a boy. The Weltwitschia is a god awful mess, its gangly green fronds ending in some sun beached grey frizzle. But what hardiness! How does it survive in the the unforgiving deserts of Namibia? (Egg-frying temperatures of 65 centigrade, whole years without rain etc)

Lesser known plants have simply given up or moved on. By contrast, the leathery old welwitschia has refused to admit defeat.

Its will-to-live lies in the fogs that constantly envelop the region. This is the water that nourishes welwitschia. Those leprous stamens, those snaking and sinister taproots, might seem repellent to us, but they all serve the purpose of sucking moisture out of the foggy air.

Welwitschia is nothing if not practical and hardy, like a persistent weed that fears not the heat o’ the sun nor the winter’s furious rages. And above all, it is a wonderful counterblast to a world that prizes beauty above all things.

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