Haworthia Revisited – 3. Haworthia aristata

3. Haworthia aristata Haw., Suppl.Pl.Succ. :51(1819),  Rev.Pl.Succ. :58(1821).  Non V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 43:92(1938).  Non Jacobsen 2:537(1954).  Non Scott, Natn.Cact.Succ.J 35:12(1980).  Non Scott :110(1985).  Type: Cape, ex hort Kew.  Not preserved.  Lectotype (designated here): icon (K).  Epitype (designated here): CAPE-3325(Port Elizabeth: Deadmans Gulch (Soutkloof) (-DA), Smith 3550 (NBG):  H. denticulata Haw., Rev.Pl.Succ. :58(1821).  Baker, JLinn.Soc. 18:213(1880).  V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 41:199(1937).  non idem. 45:168(1938).  Type: Cape, ex hort. Kew.  Not preserved.  Lectotype (designated here): icon, Kew library.

aristata: furnished with an awn.

Rosette stemless, proliferating slowly, to 6cm φ.  Leaves slender, erect, incurved, dark-green, margins and keel entire or finely spined, with little translucence and faintly reticulated.  Inflorescence simple, lax.  Flowers 10-15, white.

In the first editions of the Handbook these two names were rejected as insufficiently known, and I did not agree with von Poellnitz’ use of aristata for his later H. unicolor.  I mentioned too with regard to H. denticulata, that Von Poellnitz had consistently allied that name to the Hankey H. translucens (now gracilis) complex.  However, von Poellnitz cites a number of improbable associates, further lists it as a variety of H. altilinea, and also describes it as having translucence.  I do thus do also not agree with Scott’s 1985 interpretation where he overlooks the very translucent margins and keel of the species (see H. mucronata) to which he applies the name.  It is only recently when I re-examined collections in the Compton herbarium, and a collection received from W.R. Branch from Addo, that it became apparent that Haworth’s two species can be allied to collections which have previously been hidden in H. gracilis.  As applied here, it is indeed to a small dainty species which has very little translucence to the leaf.  It is odd that the description as it appears translated in Scott (1980), reads ‘resembles a dark green cuspidata..’.  Haworth’s description refers to Sempervivum cuspidatum and not to the big presumed hybrid Haworthia of that name.  The late F.J. Stayner had in private communication commented on this odd species from Cougakop, east of Port Elizabeth.  He collected specimens for the Karoo garden and these are still in cultivation.  It was treated as a variant of H. xiphiophylla because it was not as translucent as most of the small elements in that area are, and because it was not substantial in terms of botanical record.  Cougakop is now virtually quarried away.  H. aristata is represented by about four collections from that area and also by three collections by P.V. Bruyns from further north and west.  Here the plants do show some translucence and also tend to bluish-green, so it is possible that it may link up with small forms of H. decipiens.  It should not be assumed that this element is really subtstantial enough as recent attempts to establish its validity have not been very successful.  The collection from Mt Stewart cited below is probably H. decipiens var, minor.

3324(Steytlerville): S. Mt. Stewart (-AB), Bruyns 1812 (NBG).  3325(Port Elizabeth): Stonefountain (-BA), Bruyns 1654 (NBG); E. Verdun (-BB), Bruyns 1630 (NBG); Near Kommadagga (-BC), Smith 5890 (NBG); Soutkloof (-DA), Swart (NBG), Stayner in KG7/76 (NBG), Branch 459 (NBG); van Jaarsveld 6902 (NBG); Deadmans Gulch (Soutkloof) (-DA), Smith 3550 (NBG).

Inadequately located: Somerset East, Herre in STE6612 (BOL).



Haworthia aristata JDV87/53 Soutkloof. This is a photograph of a plant collectd by W. R. Branch. Although there are several records of this element it has not been clearly shown to be a valid species.

Haworthia aristata JDV87/53 Soutkloof. This is a photograph of a plant collected by W. R. Branch. Although there are several records of this element it has not been clearly shown to be a valid species.

Haworthia aristata JDV96/90 Soutkloof. This collection seems to more closely resemble an intermediate between H. gracilis and H. cooperi.

Haworthia aristata JDV96/90 Soutkloof. This collection seems to more closely resemble an intermediate between H. gracilis and H. cooperi.


Volume 1, Chapter 1:- Haworthia gracilis, H. cymbiformis and H. cooperi in the greater Baviaanskloof area

I will be disappointed if anyone had concluded I had any fixed ideas on the classification of these three species and their relationship.  It has a problem which has long been on my mind.  What happened recently (Nov.1998) is that I was offered the use of a time-share apartment at Jeffrey’s Bay, near the mouth of the Gamtoos River.  I used this opportunity to spend six days in the field testing my hypothesis concerning the species Haworthia cymbiformis, Haworthia cooperi and Haworthia gracilis, and this is what I would like to record.  Subsequent to that trip (Mar.1999) I planned and executed an excursion through the Baviaanskloof to Grahamstown and Stutterheim in March 1999, and repeated the exploration in Sept. and Oct. 1999.

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Volume 1, Chapter 4:- Haworthia cooperi and Haworthia bolusii var. blackbeardiana.

One of the greatest difficulties in Haworthia is that of trying to recognise discrete species.  This translates into confusion which can be attributed to writers.  The initial source of confusion is without doubt the nature of the plants themselves, and this is not a problem confined to Haworthia.  The species are often not easily recognisable and discrete entities.  I abhor the statement that the genus is in a state of active evolution, but this does at least seem to convey a message that readers understand, even if it is somewhat hackneyed.  My observations on Haworthia are based on a definition of species as a system of living organisms which are continuous in time and space.  In my New Haworthia Handbook, I suggested that a primary problem lay in separating H. bolusii  and H. cooperi, and for the purposes of that work I largely discounted the secondary problems.  My first concern was to identify core areas and names as working postulates.  This did not mean I was unaware of lesser problems contained within the recognition of those two species.  The purpose of this paper is to present my current understanding of the problem.

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Volume 1, Chapter 5:- The Haworthias of Kaboega.

M B Bayer, 16 Hope Str., 8000 Cape Town.
Ian Ritchie, Box 44, 5850 Somerset East.

Kaboega (also spelt Kabouga) is now an assemblage of farms (De Plaat, Wilgerfontein, Vygeboomfontein, Klipfontein) nestled against the north slopes of the Zuurberg mountains, north of Kirkwood.  It is only about 15km away from Kirkwood as the crow flies, but 150km away by road.  Oudekraal is about 20km east and it is the source of Haworthia angustifolia var. baylissii and Gasteria baylissiana.  There are several records of Haworthia for the Kirkwood area, and von Poellnitz named H. stiemiei (Regarded as insufficiently known and not recognised by Col C.L. Scott or myself) from there.  He also identified plants from Kaboega and Uyepoort, both described as “at Kirkwood”) as H. altilinea var. denticulata (Haw.) V. Poelln.  These plants are all in the melange that I attribute to H. cooperi var. gordoniana (the subject of another long essay).  The Kaboega farm lies on the Kaboega river which drains an area of about 1m ha and then flows through the long Kaboegapoort into the Sundays River just north-west of Kirkwood.  The terrain is very broken with the sandstone Zuurbergs themselves dominating the southern boundary at about 850 to 950m above sea level.  The lowest point on the farm is at about 300m and the northern lesser shale or dolerite peaks reach 550 to 650m.  The vegetation on the sandstones is Dry Mountain Fynbos.  North of this is Karoo Valley Bushveld.  Thus Kaboega is at an ecotone of the karoid veld, Eastern Cape grassland and the Noorsveld (Euphorbia thicket) of the Jansenville area.

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Volume 2, Chapter 7:- Continuity of Haworthia on the Zuurberg

This problem of continuity is one I seem to have difficulty in conveying to my readers and listeners.  The difference between one species and another is a discontinuity and, if we believe in evolution, it is the resultant of a break-up of continuity in its ancestral parent species.  The “model” we have in our minds, is of progressive change from one recognisable entity to another by evolution.  Geographic distribution and re-distribution are key elements in this process.  But we do not seem accept this in the way we try to classify plants or interpret classifications.  Apart from recognising that change could be gradual and therefore manifest continuity, the change may be from a complex variable system which contains different levels of continuity within itself, and not from a simply understood uniform ‘ancestor’.

The result is that in a genus like Haworthia, which is by no means exceptional, the differences between species i.e. the discontinuities between “species”, may be very difficult to either recognise or rationalise.  It in fact becomes a statistical operation in which all the characters should be involved i.e. multiple variate analysis.  If all the characters could be measured and quantified it is statistically possible to subject all the data so obtained by one of several statistical methods to measure “distance” and “significant difference” between groups of plants which we want to ascertain are species, varieties or even just hybrids.  The process of “cladistics” is the use of a system to generate a branching “tree” of relationships base on characters which are also evaluated and loaded for chronological priority (primitive versus advanced).  In using such a mathematical package, it is pretended that the classification becomes “objective” and hence replicable to satisfy the scientific requirement.  In my estimation, the cladistic process assumes that a two-dimensional “tree” adequately represents the spatial and temporal changes of evolutionary processes, and it does not work.

Somebody might one day try to apply such methods to Haworthia and I say “Good luck to you”.  My experience of characterisation and variation in the biological systems I have experience of, and including Haworthia, suggest to me that sensible, practical, experienced “eye-balling” will prove the better bet.  Ultimately in Haworthia, I expect that technology and cladistic methods will be testable on the result of my classification.  This is not a conceited and arrogant claim.  It is a simple reflection on what classification actually is and what it is for.  Much of botanical classification has been done by amateurs with no, or minimal, specific training and qualification for that field at all eg. G.W.Reynolds, L.C.Leach, T.L.Salter, J.Lavranos, C.L.Scott, G.G.Smith, M.B.Bayer etc.  Their classifications form the basis of many scientific observations, sometimes by scientists who have no conception of the significance, or insignificance of the names they use or what they may actually mean.  The classifications may have little to recommend them except the fact that they appear to conform to the approved nomenclatural style.

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Volume 2, Chapter 10:- Small Hairy Things

(This article was published in Haworthiad 16:43, 2002.  Since then I have implemented name changes and I indicate these in bold type)

When I have written about Haworthia, I have generally taken as a subject a particular species, in the sense that people regard a species as a kind of thing universally and unmistakably recognisable.  It is not always easy to find such things in the lower life forms, and this is also true for the sub‑genus Haworthia.  Here I am just writing about a few odd plants, without going into the many ramifications that are actually involved.

I am also using the classification, and system, rationalised and explained as best I could in my book “Haworthia Revisited” (1999).  Since that was written, I have been on many more exploratory journeys and have learnt a lot more.  Much of this new information has been published in “Haworthia Update Vol.1”.  There are several essays there, one devoted to the Baviaanskloof and one to the northern Zuurberg (Kaboega).  I explain that the name H. gracilis is probably redundant (I limit its use to H. cooperi var  gracilis as it occurs at Helspoort, Grahamstown. It may actually be better to regard most of the Baviaanskloof populations all as one species ‑ variants of a greater species that will be H. cooperi. I will implement the necessary name changes in another paper (This was done in, and the article is copied, in a preceding essay).

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Volume 6, Chapter 3:- Still more about Haworthia on Kaboega

Part 1.
Kaboega is a set of farms on the northeast of the Zuurberg Mountain range, north of Kirkwood and off the Addo National Park. I wrote about the haworthias that occur there in Haworthia Update Vol.1. There is also an article in Aloe 40:10 (2003) in which there is a discussion of the variation of those haworthias as related to geology and topography. My wife and I frequently visit Kaboega to renew relationships with Ian and Sandy Ritchie who live there. Each time we go we try to explore some different area. We generally end-up with something that is notably new.
There is a real problem in trying to reconcile the populations we see with the names that are available and the way in which I have tried to formalize them myself. The problem is that Kaboega seems to occupy some sort of central and neutral position and it is by no means easy to arrive at any clean rational classification. Three of my species are involved, and I have to say they are “mine” because other authors are in strong disagreement. The three species I see are H. cymbiformis, H. cooperi, and H. aristata. It is firstly necessary to explain that I interpret the name H. aristata in Haworthia Revisited quite differently from what I might have done earlier; and quite differently from other authors who have simply taken the easy route and associated the name with Little Karoo elements for which I use the name H. mucronata. My interpretation of the name will be quite evident from my writings and from the pictures submitted with this article. The use of the name H. cymbiformis with respect to Kaboega is a major problem for someone like myself who is firmly convinced that geographical relationships are foremost in the recognition of species as living systems. On Kaboega, plants that look like H. cymbiformis seem to proceed out of a complex that is surely H. cooperi. If one properly considers all the populations that I ascribe to H. aristata one is seriously confronted with the reality that it is also a geographic variant of H. cooperi.

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Kaboega is located in the Zuurberg Mountains north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Read more about this in Haworthia Update Volume 1, Chapter 5:- The Haworthias of Kaboega. There are a mind-boggling array of Haworthia populations here in an area considered to be the meeting point of several vegetation biomes. There is much exposed rock, and the soil is very skeletal, composed of three major groups: sandstone, mudstone, and glacial deposits. These pictures are of a Haworthia cooperi variant that occurs high up on sandstone. I went to this spot because researchers had sent me a picture of a cycad festooned with Haworthia. I did not get to the exact spot but have seen the way it forms hanging bundles in other situations.

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Haworthia glauca!! can also be found here. On Kaboega these plants often have a very close resemblance to H. coarctata and it is no co-incidence that the distributions of these two species complement each other. An essential element of species recognition is their juxtaposition and if they occur in very close association or not. Darwin said as much.

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I visited four populations of this greenish cooperi. One can find plants like this from east of Grahamstown right through to the Little Karoo. Here they are on Dwyka (glacial) skeletal soil.

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These next are in the shales low down in the valley on Kaboega – I name it H. aristata. It is very common in the area but complements H. cooperi while there are populations that are neither. Populations cannot be treated in isolation and there is a distinct possibility/probability that I have been too generous with species. The attempts to find answers via DNA sequencing should make the vendors of that technology thoroughly ashamed.

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More of these green things. I would guess that these would class as the simple progenitors of cymbiformis and cooperi. Perhaps even of mucronata?

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This is Haworthiopsis sordida that does not occur, as far as I know, north of this. H. nigra also occurs here at it’s most southern at this longitude. Altogether it is quite a complex network of distribution patterns that relate to greater plant geography.


From another population as variants on a theme. have seen about 30 such just on this small mountain area and it just suggests what is still unseen on the length and breadth.

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Not a great diagram but a way to appreciate the drammatic choreography of plant distribution and how it impacts on classification. Without it Haworthia names make no sense other than as imagined and fantasized. Cooperi and cymbiformis occur as intertwined species to the east and south. In the south they extend westwards to get lost in H. mucronata. Cymbiformis as an independent species does not enter Kaboega except as an observable variant of H. cooperi. The cooperi gets lost westwards as variants of H. decipiens. Perhaps close northwards as H. aristata. H. glauca does cross the Zuurberg but is here confused with H. coarctata that may occur in recognosable form on the eastern tip. Angustifolia is on the eastern end too but does not enter Kaboega. Neither do H. monticola or H. zantneriana from the west. This is also closely tied to the intrigue of winter vs summer rainfall and still further to the massive geological changes of the very recent..

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