In my Haworthia Handbook (1976) I wrote “In the by now vast and inconsequential literature on Haworthia…”. Breuer’s book is mostly an extraordinary and wonderful index of this literature and he advises us that “a hint on cultivation, caption or simple mention of a name” are excluded. I did not fully realise how much trivial literature there was. What I looked for in the book was its promise for Haworthia, and evidence that the author understood the literature he has so vigorously tracked. In 1983 I took Haworthia as far as I could with the data and material that was available, and had some well-developed ideas as to what the next step was. As it happened, Col. C.L. Scott’s book was published (1985) which inaugurated a tradition in Haworthia in which the scientific principle of organised scepticism is lost. I wrote several articles trying to clear the cobwebs of uncertainty and confusion that this tradition embraced. Apparently to no avail. I am already aware of several articles which Breuer has authored and which have been the subject of some criticism. For me they sow the seeds of concern for the future of Haworthia.
Prof.H. Ihlenfeldt is the author of a foreword to Breuer’s book. If this sets the scenario for further volumes, then my worst fears are realised. Breuer writes in the introduction “In this book my preliminary conclusions are described as a working hypothesis. The taxa which in my opinion are different from those held by Bayer are cited at the beginning of chapter 4.”
Well this is not true, and not only because the list of taxa is actually at the beginning of chapter 3. There is absolutely nothing in the whole book to indicate that Breuer has an original hypothesis built on anything at all other than:-
1. My 1983 classification.
2. Changes promised by myself in Aloe 34:4 (1997).
3. Changes in a manuscript of a revision by Bayer and in a fit of idiocy supplied to Breuer prior to publication.
4. New species described by Scott subsequent to Bayer 1983.
5. The notion that a listing of the trivial literature has induced a knowledge of the genus otherwise unknown.
There is no discussion of any kind to suggest how the hypothesis is arrived at or how it will be tested. Breuer does refer to Pilbeam’s system. Pilbeam’s system is in fact Bayer’s 1976 classification apart from the recognition of additional cultivar names and an attempt to organise the species into sections. Breuer also cites Rowley (ref. no. 443) and this reference does not appear on pages 37/8 where it should. There is a promise of “predictive descriptions” which may be an indirect compliment to my own published comments on the predictive element of classification.
My perception, based on other works and personal correspondence with Breuer, is that he does not accredit and site sources adequately and correctly. For example he writes “The state of Scott’s new species have been contested on the grounds that they are delimitations of small populations of taxa accepted by Bayer’. He does not say who has contested them in this way, and if Breuer is perhaps referring to me, he expresses my views very badly. In my opinion, this single sentence linked to the platitudinous foreword, predicts with certainty that a revision of the genus by Breuer will make no contribution to Haworthia with any originality or depth whatever.
Curiously the name H. bayeri (=H. correcta, H. uniondalensis nom.nud.?, H. willowmorensis, partly H. emelyae of Bayer) gives me a particularly appropriate opportunity to comment on method. I had suggested in 1976 that the identity of H. correcta was uncertain, and in 1983 placed it in synonymy with H. emelyae. Scott in a revision of the Retusae (Aloe 11:8, 1973) named the Uniondale element willowmorensis after Von Poellnitz and cites a number of specimens which are actually synonymous with his concept of H. picta. In 1985 he does not cite his 1973 treatment at all and reverts to correcta this time citing personal communication with Mrs Blackburn. It seems unlikely to me that his communication with Mrs Blackburn was subsequent to 1973. He discounts the epithet emelyae despite the written evidence in the herbarium for a real geographic source. It had become apparent to me after my 1983 work that emelyae and the Uniondale species could not be the same species. Thus when Hammer and Venter wanted to apply the name bayeri, I asked if they were sure about what they are doing. I had come to have no real doubts about its validity as a species nor about the uncertainty of application of the name correcta. Breuer feels that he is more competent to interpret the original German description, as well he should be, and has decided that correcta it is for the Uniondale species. Hammer and Venter must defend themselves in the face of this opinion. What I object to is the manner in which Breuer cites the information in his chapter 4. He generally mixes the concept of origin and locality for the taxa, and there is no consistency in the way the information is organised. Eg. for leightonii, the locality as cited in the description is given in detail under the heading ‘locality’, for comptoniana this information is given under ‘type’, for obesa the information is given under ‘origin’. For correcta, all three headings are used and the locality is cited as “(3324CA) On hills S of Uniondale”. I regard this as a fabrication and misrepresentation with intent. The actual origin is uncertain and von Poellnitz cited Calitzdorp. This could have been its actual origin or it could have been only the collectors home town. Why I comment on method is this. In an area of science which is largely impressionistic, we need to collectively recognise what constitutes a valid hypothesis, and cognitively use and build on that. Thus a reversion to “correcta” is simply a cosmetic action which suggests constructive thinking where there is in fact none.
Breuer’s Chapter 4 is peppered with entries ‘This name is not cited by Bayer/Scott”. This is also misrepresentation. He means the combination genus/species epithets. Why they are not cited by Bayer is because:-
1. I excluded trivial literature (of which, catalogue type works as was Roemer & Schultes is an example).
2. I was not concerned with the citations as Aloe.
There is another problem. Breuer writes “The type specimens fell victim to the devastation of war”. This is also misrepresentation. It is very obvious to me, who really knows what it means to make an herbarium specimen for ‘preservation’, that there never were Von Poellnitz specimens. In the strict terms of the nomenclatural code does this mean that Von Poellnitz names are invalid? Von Poellnitz may have given plants to the Berlin garden (Keil and Hamburg too?) where they might have been intended for propagation. I am very familiar with the frivolous point of view that an herbarium specimen is only an unrecognisable piece of compost, and nothing like a living plant in a reference collection. I also know from painful experience that ‘living collections’, even in botanic gardens, have the durability of dew-drops on grass. Breuer says that “Bayer used some of these photos to typify..”. That is not true. I had asked the Berlin-Dahlem herbarium for any material that might have survived the war, and they sent me a few sheets which consisted mostly of already published photographs. I simply listed those that were sent me and noted that they had mostly already been published. This gives me another opportunity to ridicule typification which requires a specific (and juristic) format. In my opinion all that really matters is for an author to clearly and unambiguously associate any epithet he uses with a reference specimen of some kind. Those Berlin photographs were already the foundation of a public image, with or without formal typification.
In conclusion I express my bitter disappointment at a book which dashes my hopes for understanding of a genus which is special to me. It promises a lot worse. I had left Haworthia knowing that it was virtually impossible for me to take the next step. This is detailed local exploration and explanation at that scale. Breuer’s promise of detailed field studies is not likely to be fulfilled at even the existing scale, with which he is not conversant (ie. the Compton herbarium collection). It was obvious to me that species in Haworthia, particularly the sub-genus Haworthia, are especially complex and that there are many options for the taxonomist. In recognising my own limitations, I had a vision of some intellectually competent individual with a commitment to Haworthia and truthfulness doing what I have been unable to do. This book in question is a rude awakening. A welcome to Disneyland.