Volume 7, Chapter 7:- More on Haworthia mirabilis and H. mutica from east of Bredasdorp.

More on Haworthia mirabilis and H. mutica from east of Bredasdorp.

M B Bayer, PO Box 960, Kuilsriver 7579, RSA

The area concerned is the long and wide contact zone between the Limestone stretching from Bredasdorp to Potberg, and the Bokkeveld shale north of that.  The soils and vegetation of the two areas are grossly different.  The limestones are agriculturally almost useless, while the shales are prime wheat and pasturage producing soils although relatively low yielding.  The vegetation of the shales is Renosterveld and there are very few patches left.  Large areas resemble ecological deserts with nothing of the original surface intact.  Here and there are shale banks and associated quartz outcrops and also some remnants of tertiary deposits that overlie the shale.  Under this deposit layer the shale has decomposed to kaolin and in places there are gravel sheets of fine quartz on white clay.  The skeletal nature of these remnants is the saving grace but it is unbelievable to what lengths farmers must have gone to make fields arable.  Enormous amounts of stone that have been carted away and dumped to make cultivated lands.  Sadly the stone is often dumped on exposed rock and prime Haworthia habitat.  The remnants are still under threat and a mindset that has developed in the road construction and maintenance arena is that roads must be clean and scraped fence to fence.  Similarly there are farmers who want every square inch under control and in subservience to their production needs.  Dense vegetation is abhorred and burnt to control predation of sheep by jackal and lynx.  Vegetation adjoining crops is treated with weedkiller to minimize crop contamination.  Crops are also grown in conjunction with animal production.  When crops are in, the animals are on fallow land and on whatever is left of natural vegetation.   It is the harsh reality of conservation.

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Still another view of Haworthia retusa and Haworthia mirabilis

I recently wrote an essay on the situation between Haworthia retusa and Haworthia mirabilis at Komserante east of Riversdale.  The essay was entitled “My view of names” and is posted on the HaworthiaUpdates.org web site.  Etwin Aslander posted some pictures from what he called Kruisrivier.  These caught my eye because they did not look like the plants I know from a place of the same name.  My known population is JDV95/62 and generally these plants have the dark colour and rough surface texture of H. mirabilis.  The issue is that they are spring flowering whereas H. mirabilis is generally considered and observed to be late summer flowering.  Etwin indicated to me where he had found his plants and I duly went to look.

In the process I incidentally called on a well known H. retusa population at the Skietbaan locality south of Riversdale.  There has been a dramatic turnabout in the appearances of these plants since I last looked there 2 years ago.  Whereas there were then huge clones well above ground level, the plants were now again smaller and drawn into the ground.  I experienced this dramatic shift in plant appearances just west of the Frehse Reserve many years ago when there were giant size plants as opposed to my first visit when the plants were really small and withdrawn.

Kobus accompanied Daphne and I to Kruisrivier where the owners Wilhelm and Mandi Zietsman were extremely helpful.  They told us also of a neighbor, Gert van Rensburg, who had also seen the same plants on his farm to the west.  Mandi accompanied us on a jaunt to find that farmer and failing that we explored north of the original Kruisrivier locality.  There we found another population of plants as well as H. floribunda (see Set 1 MBB7998).  These two species H. retusa and H. floribunda were occupying different habitat and spaced about 100m apart.  The H. floribunda was numerous and rather smooth leaved as well as paler green in colour than I expect from that species.  The H. retusa-like plants were much smoother in surface texture than the original known population and they were in bud (see Set 2 MBB7999).  We went back to the older population just to confirm that they were in bud too as we expected.  Just so and the buds were just emerging from the rosettes.  The plants were generally smaller than they were at a previous visit (see set 3 JDV95/62).

We parted company with Mandi Zietsman, and went off westwards intended to explore the Klein Kruisrivier area that seemed to better fit Etwin’s site indicator.  By good fortune we ran into Gert van Rensburg of Wegwysersrivier.  He eyed us very suspiciously indeed and obviously very reluctant to show anyone the plants.  However, he very kindly relented, took us to the spot and left us to freely photograph and explore (see set 4 MBB8000).  The plants can be described as midway between the generally rougher surfaces of JDV95-62 and the smooth surfaces of MBB7999.  What was more dramatic is that there were six flower spikes so that flowering is possible as early as July 6th.

We returned via another route regretting leaving distant habitat unexplored.  But we did find another population of H. floribunda, a little more toothed and perhaps brighter green than at Kruisrivier.

I also note that I long ago confirmed Smith’s record for H. retusa ‘turgida’ at Klein Kruisrivier in the upper Wegwysersrivier Gorge.  This is the small spinose proliferous version known elsewhere from the Langeberg Mts.

Digesting this new information is a bit difficult in view of the very opposed views of what names mean and how they should be applied.  Taking all the populations that I have explored and written about, my perspective is further to a view expressed in Haworthia Update 7.  This is that H. retusa and H. mirabilis are uncomfortably close.  The only thing that appears to separate them is the yellowish green and smooth tendency in H. retusa and the darkish green and surface rough tendency in H. mirabilis.  Further to that is of course the question of spring flowering versus late summer flowering.  But I have already reported several case of hybridization across this divide as well as the Komserante situation.  Here we now have plants in three populations that occupy middle ground and one of these populations has a significant degree of a winter flowering capacity.   The identification should perhaps utilize the chemical equilibrium symbol  This is not quite it “↔” as the better symbol comprises halved arrows pointing in opposite directions.

I wish to add that in the case of plants I attribute to H. ‘turgida’ at Towerlands, I commented on the very real possibility of a close connection to H. emelyae.  There is also evidence for this elsewhere.  I use the name ‘turgida’ like this because of the uncertainty of it really being H. retusa var. turgida or perhaps H.  pygmaea.

My experience in other situations viz. H. limifolia, H. herbacea/H. reticulata, H. arachnoidea/H. mucronata, H. cymbiformis/H. cooperi, Kiewietsvlakte etc. all suggests to me that the view of species is grossly distorted in the splitter direction.  It is clear to me, if to no one else, that H. retusa and H. mirabilis form a very cohesive entity with ramifying oddities the length and breadth of the distribution range.  I do not cover this issue here, but there is the added complication of the involvement of H. floribunda.  It seems to be very discrete in most places, whereas at others it seems to get lost mainly (only?) in H. mirabilis.  This may be because the introgression is favoured by the same flowering season.  H. retusa and H. mirabilis are drifted apart by the difference in flowering season but it is by no means anything more than a general observation.

I have added the images of the available flowers as well as that of a bud to show the flared fishtail bud-tip that the southern Cape species tend to have.  The flowers are variable and it is difficult to make a statement that characterizes them i.e. no composite image forms.

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A sequel…Still another view of Haworthia retusa and Haworthia mirabilis.

It has long been my contention that there is no separation between Haworthia retusa and Haworthia turgida. It is one very variable system viz H. retusa, with a larger fairly non-proliferous plants tending to level areas and then smaller proliferous plants on steeper habitats. There is huge variability among members of any one population and of course much more between populations. Over and above this is the relationship of this apparently one single system, with H. mirabilis that is probably even more complex and varied. If one takes all the known populations and variants into consideration it become necessary to ask if H. retusa and H. mirabilis are also not just elements of one system , and one species. If all the considerations are summed and referral is made to vegetation and speciation drivers; what constitutes an area of endemism, then I am sure the answer will be “Yes”! What seems to have happened is a natural sequence. As sampling has progressed so has there been recognition of differences. The logical outcome is that sampling progression should lead to understanding and synthesis by reduction. Unfortunately there will be diehards that stay with the differences syndrome and cannot see the similarities.

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Bontebok Park Haworthia floribunda and SW Klipport Haworthia mirabilis

I was at Bontebok Park south of Swellendam this week specifically to get another look at Haworthia floribunda there and why it is so different. On the way I did some exploring at Stormsvlei about 25km west of Swellendam where I know H. mutica Klipport in a shale environment, and a very odd H. mirabilis growing on a small patch of manganic conglomerate. But going south onto the northern slopes of the Bromberg we found three populations of H. mirabilis in sandstone that are again “different” in the sense that “H. groenewaldii” could be different from H. mutica. This is just a local geological phenomenon and fully sequential with H. mirabilis to all compass directions. If you extrapolate this to Swellendam you have to conclude that the Swellendam mix of H. floribunda, H. marginata, H. minima, H. floribunda, H. mutica and H. retusa is the way it is because of the unusual geology of the area. The Bontebok Park is a relatively massive area of tertiary gravel of mostly river origin and derived from Table Mountain Sandstone. Tertiary gravels east and south are derived from silcrete and ferricrete. I do not know the detail of the mineralogy but it most definitely forms the basis of the soils, vegetation and habitat across the Southern Cape. I specifically looked at H. marginata in the park and see that it was in seed i.e. September flowering with massive capsules and seed. Now if Marx can persuade someone that this is a different species, I accept that I am a monkey’s uncle and that the differences in H. marginata elsewhere e.g. Drew, Bredasdorp and Heidelberg or Riversdale, mean there are several similar species. OH, I forget – that means H. floribunda would also be several species, and so is H. minima. But then H. mutica is of course several species and H. retusa several dozen. H. mirabilis several hundred.

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Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Appendix 6

Appendix  6  to Haworthia Update Vol 8.

Two further records and data for Haworthia mirabilis.

Kobus Venter drew my attention to a second population of H. mirabilis on the eastern boundary of the farm Schuitsberg, which is the origin of the var. beukmannii of von Poellnitz.  But the real motive for exploration in that area was a photograph sent to me by Messrs Daryl and Priscilla Hackland of a plant on the Zigzag Path just east of the northern end of the town of Greyton.   It was their son Andy Hackland who observed the plants and thought I might be interested – indeed.  The bright green colour of the plant struck me as most unusual for that area where most of the populations known are south of the river in shale and they are of the brown and red hues.  This is not strictly true because records of an expedition by messrs Beukman, Otzen and others mentions a small “black” species just before the entrance to Greyton.  I have never found that.

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Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Appendix 7

Appendix  7 to Haworthia Update Vol 8.

Three further records and data for Haworthia mirabilis.

The populations covered here are:-

6631 H. mirabilis ‘mundula’, Mierkraal, SW Bredasdorp.
6635 H. mirabilis ‘badia’, NW Napier.
6639 H. mirabilis ‘sublineata’, S Bredasdorp.

There has been some published comment about the distinctiveness of these three populations stating that I do not recognise this because I treat them as variants of single species.  The implication is that I do not see any difference.  This is quite bizarre.  At the present moment I have a digital library of 165 H. mirabilis populations and this is by no means all there are.  There is an enormous amount of variation both in and between these populations.  If the specified three are to be recognised as species, it means that there is a wholly unrealistic number of species quite out of keeping even with an already highly diverse set of species of the Cape Flora.  Furthermore,as I point out in appendix 6, there is no typical variety of H. mirabilis in any practical sense because the variability in the population designated by me, as well as that of Schuitsberg apparently preferred by another, precludes it.

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Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Appendix 8

Appendix 8 to Vol. 8 Haworthia Update. A report on Haworthia mirabilis ‘badia’ / ‘subtuberculata’

I cannot claim that I have resolved the nomenclature niceties around the use of this name and its many varietal names and synonyms.  If critically examined even the use of the name “mirabilis” is in doubt and the very original epithet of “Aloe atrovirens” may be nomenclaturally correct.  This would create havoc because then the name H. herbacea as typified by W.T. Stearn may best apply.   So I put that all aside and use names as I have in my Revision and subsequent publications.  I am well aware that there is a problem with the use of H. mirabilis var mirabilis where it may be thought that the name “mundula” is therefore redundant.  I cover all this up with the explanation that there is no typical variety “mirabilis”  and actually use just the name H. mirabilis to cover all those populations and variants to which no Latin names exist. I use names like “badia” and “sublineata” as it is generally possible to recognise all or most of the variants from those populations.  But names like “magnifica”, “maraisii”, “heidelbergensis”, “rubrodentata”, “beukmannii” and “depauperata” (among others) have no clear and direct application in respect of a population or even a group of variants of any kind.  In my Revision I attempt the use of the name “triebneriana” to cover all the variants that are not included under the typical varietal name “mirabilis”.  This does not actually work either because the name has its origins at Stormsvlei and there are other populations that are very different from those occurring there too.

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Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Appendix 9

Appendix 9 to Vol. 8 Haworthia Update –  A report on Haworthia mirabilis and Haworthia rossouwii ‘minor’, Rooivlei, NNE Bredasdorp.

In Appendix 8, I explain some of the rationale of my use of names.  A detailed report on H. mirabilis can be found in Haworthia Update Vol.3. and in various chapters of the subsequent Updates.  It is shown why I consider the possibility that H. mirabilis and H. retusa are in fact the same species.

In this report I will show just one population of many from Napier northwards and westwards for which no broad name exists.  There is simply a transformation from elements that I refer to as H. mirabilis ‘subtuberculata’ in Appendix 8, to a very wide range of populations in the central Southern Cape.  Both the names “maraisii and “heidelbergensis” have been applied to populations in this area.  The name H. maraisii var. simplicior from Napky may even be relevant but its application, simply irrational.

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Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Appendix 10

Appendix 10 to Vol. 8 Haworthia UpdateAn additional report on Haworthia mirabilis and Haworthia rossouwii ‘minor’, Rooivlei and Brakkloof, N and, NNE Bredasdorp.

The previous report indicated the necessity for further exploration of Rooivlei.  I had observed H. mirabilis, but not reported it in Update 3, at Brakkloof to the west in 2004.  So the object of this appendix is to remedy this oversight and to also cover more area of Rooivlei.  At Brakkloof there are several small remnants of rocky shale and we located several populations, while at Rooivlei we actually explored the very western boundary.  This constitutes the same topographical area as the Rooivlei populations but the plants we observed were factually on Brakkloof.   

The populations reported on here are:-

  1. 6537 H. mirabilis, Groudini, W Napier
  2. 7285 H. mirabilis, Brakkloof 3
  3. 8046 H. mirabilis, Brakkloof 2
  4. 8047 H. mirabilis, Brakkloof 1
  5. 8048 H. mirabilis, W Rooivlei 1
  6. 8049 H. mirabilis, W Rooivlei 2
  7. 8050 H. mirabilis, W Rooivlei 3
  8. 8051 H. mirabilis, E Rooivlei
  9. 8045+ H. rossouwii ‘minor’, NW type locality
  10. 8052 H. mirabilis, S.Welgegund
  11. 8053 H. mirabilis, Welgegund SE 8052

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The Haworthia species of the Bontebok National Park

M. B. Bayer (MSc), Kleinbegin Farm, Kuilsriver, South Africa
Mrs Carly Cowell (MSc), Regional Ecologist, Cape Research Centre, Conservation Services, South African National Parks, Cape Town, South Africa.

Objective:  The significance of the Park occurrences.
The occurrence of members of three aloid “genera” (the three sub-genera of the genus Haworthia could indeed be genera) and the absence of any other member of the Aloids (bar the ubiquitous Aloe ferox) must surely be indicative of the driving forces that determine the flora of the Park.  This also must surely help establish the significance of the park as a conservancy of considerable merit.  The complex interaction of the species enhances even that.  The purpose of this report is to examine more closely the variation and nature of a small segment of the Park flora, and demonstrate how much more can be done.     

Note: This report has several constraints.  Firstly is the situation in which there is no formal general definition and hence understanding of what a plant species is.  Secondly there is the generally understood view that there is an evolutionary process at work by which organisms evolve from a common distant origin by genetic mutation and adaptation.  Thirdly there are serious flaws in the classification of the Aloid genera.  Several essays dealing with these issues by DNA sequencing are weak because they rest on those flaws and consequently do not address some serious questions of relationships that the results pose.  Fourthly of course is the reality that the knowledge or intellectual capacity to overcome these deficiencies may be absent.  Thus the report is written in the context of all the publications as the original genus revision (Haworthia Revisited, Bayer; Umdaus, 1999) and others available on the internet (HaworthiaUpdates.org).

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A further report on Haworthia mirabilis in the Greyton area.

Appendix 11 to Haworthia Update Vol. 8.

In appendix 6 I reported on H. mirabilis just east of Greyton and also at Schuitsberg further east and south.  I undertook this excursion to fill out on a population at Uitkyk (MBB7092) west of Genadendal illustrated with one image in Haworthia Revisited.  En route we discovered still another population along a road from Caledon to the northwest (8055 Hammanskraal), briefly called at a site east of the bridge on that road crossing the Riviersonderend (MBB8056).  We also visited the population MBB8040 east of Greyton and explored some of the hiking trail between Greyton and McGregor.

The population 7092, H. mirabilis, at Uitkyk, is indeed interesting.  It is a steep riverside, south facing, vertical slope.  There are many plants that may not receive any direct sunshine for most of the summer and of course none in winter.  It is really curious because there are groups of plants that seem to be holding clumps of moss, lichen and a modicum of soil to the rock.  There are orchids, oxalis, shade-loving Asparagus, and all the small bulbs one expects in these moist south facing habitats.  The rock seems to be metamorphosed from fault-shearing heat and pressure on shale.  Among the illustrations is a view looking east along the road with the roadside south-facing habitat on the left.  The Riviersonderend River is immediately on the right.  In the distance ahead is Leeukop, the type locality for H. mirabilis ‘rubrodentata’.  That is a dry north-facing slope.

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