Haworthia Updates Vol. 5 – Table of Contents

Haworthia Updates vol. 5

Volume 5, Chapter 17:- New populations of Haworthia chloracantha, Haworthia parksiana and Haworthia kingiana

In Chapter 1 of  Haworthia Update Vol. 2, I discussed H. chloracantha and H. parksiana in the context of H. floribunda.  Fig. 8 in that publication is labelled “North of Herbertsdale” when in fact it is MBB7425 from the Wolwedans Dam north of Great Brak (see fig.1).  This was deliberate and not seriously misleading as the plants from the two respective populations are virtually identical.  The correct images for that “north of Herbertsdale” are in Haworthia Revisited and labelled JDV87/80 and 97/138.

MBB7425 from the Wolwedans Dam north of Great Brak

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Volume 5, Chapter 16:- Can Haworthia teach us anything?

My experience with Haworthia dates back to my childhood and on to nearly 70 years of observation.  However, my interest was only able to properly manifest when I began work at the Karoo Botanic Garden in 1969 and it has since been through many phases.  I wrote a formal taxonomic revision of the genus in 1999 and have spent a good bit of the last nine years adding to and verifying what I wrote.  Haworthia has always been regarded as a problem child of botany to be avoided by professional taxonomists for various reasons including an apparent phobia of the many amateur collectors peering over the shoulder while at work.  This has puzzled me because it seemed to me that if the need for good classification and identification was so strong there was an obligation on botany to provide the service.  So my involvement has been largely by default.  I was trained in an agricultural and entomological tradition with a totally different and unsophisticated approach to things like taxonomy, systematics and nomenclature.  In the infant science that agriculture then was in South Africa, I can barely claim that my MSc is much more than an indication that I tried to learn something beyond normal schooling. While trained as an agricultural entomologist, my leaning was to plants and I eventually came to the Karoo garden to do what I liked best viz. exploring plants.  Unfortunately the route is via identification and names and so I have walked a long road through the minefield that this is.  Was this only in respect of Haworthia?  No!  This is a persistent misconception.  Haworthia is only different because it has attracted such close and sustained amateur interest by so many for so long.  I experienced failing classification in many other genera.  To be fair I think the real reason is the lack of importance attached to the whole function of plant classification.  It even seems as if many modern botanists pursue the study of plant relationship under the guise of systematics that is not committed to providing formal names and identifications.

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Volume 5, Chapter 15:- A view of Haworthia marumiana ‘dimorpha’


Hills north of Jandeboers.

Gerhard Marx’ article in respect of H. marumiana and its associations is very welcome as he is one of the very few persons who make any constructive and useful observations that do not further tarnish the image of plant classification. But the article does require a response from me because it challenges my own observations and to a degree I think it misrepresents my decision making. Furthermore it suggests some kind of rift in which it is possible to make a better decision by looking more closely at less.  What is this truth that has no respect for us humans? Gerhard writes his taxonomic priority list in which geographic distribution is placed last and then goes on to suggest that the flower has been too often ignored. This is simply not true and ironically this contention may be why we are in the situation we are in. Darwin stated that geographic distribution was the primary key to understanding species and if one looks at classification problems, in Haworthia at least, they can often be shown to weak decisions based on detail and superficial difference. This is despite the classic tenet of experienced taxonomists who were known to state “look for similarities rather than for differences”.  Gerhard perforce has to evade the very problem he describes relating to the time and effort needed to make a meaningful study of all this floral detail. Gerhard goes on to examine differences between ‘archeri’ and ‘marumiana’, but he does not say what specimens from what populations he uses to generate the comparisons he makes.

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Volume 5, Chapter 14:- Haworthia jakubii – another new species?

Alsterworthia produced a special edition (No.7) in 2004 to publish new species and combinations subsequent to the publication of Haworthia Revisited.  I was given a copy because of my own contributions in respect of primarily new combinations.  I had the previous year done some exploration along the Duiwenhoks River south of Heidelberg and found several Haworthia populations notably MBB7227 Witheuwel and MBB7229 Somona. I discussed these in Chapter 6 of my Update Vol 2. dealing with the complexity of the element H. retusa (mutica) var. nigra and the problematic nature of H. mirabilis as it occurs around and south of Heidelberg.  So when I saw the picture of H. jakubii I merely glanced at the description to see the words Duiwenhoks River to think this was another of those weird armchair products to befuddle the enthusiast and add another name from an endless production belt.  There was nothing about the illustration that suggested anything new to me so it is really fascinating to now only read what the author had to say “ When the author first saw them, he thought they were something new because of their features”.  This is a very subjective statement and I have no doubt that the author could be misled into thinking that other plants from the same population could also be “something new”.  Why “something new” should be allied to a Latin binomial is intrinsic to “namenklutter” and the disrepute into which taxonomy has fallen.

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Volume 5, Chapter 13:- A February 2009 Miscellany


7807 H.minima.  Swartrug, SE Heidelberg. 002

This chapter is based on recent field exploration and embroiders around many aspects of Haworthia species discussed in earlier chapters.  What should be striking is that new populations follow the very predictable geographic pattern that all my earlier exploration has exposed and in my estimation confirm in every way what I consider a sound and satisfactory taxonomic solution and help explain its limitations.

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Volume 5, Chapter 12:- More on Haworthia venosa ‘granulata’.

I wrote “What is Haworthia schoemanii? in reference to the statements I have made that I did not want to write any more. But also kind of intimating that really we need to find some sense in all this “namenklutter”, while at the same time I am drifting away from the community that controls it and isolated from that which generates most of it. My note was about the names ‘schoemanii’ and ‘crausii’; and their perceived improbable existence as biological systems.  This is then just a very short note to elaborate on a record of mine of H. venosa subsp. granulata that I gave as from Patatsriver Road. This was partly because I did not want to advertise too openly where the site was and because I was not even sure of the farm name.  Nowadays, while I fully appreciate there are some not very nice people who do and will abuse the situation; I do not believe there is any merit whatsoever in secrecy. It seems to me that this simply exacerbates the whole situation just as does the insistence that conservation laws that so effectively exclude people from participation, contribute to conservation.

When I transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1987, I became involved in vegetation regeneration.  This had been initiated in the Western Cape as early as 1936.  Without a single indication of success I was tasked with the job of continuing the great work.  The department had used a site at Bantamsfontein in the southeastern Tanqua Karoo that is accessed via the Patatsriver Road that links Ceres by a country road directly with Matjesfontein that is on the main highway Cape Town to Laingsburg and on to the north.   The site can best be described as a rather homogenous stand of Ruschia spinosa on a low-lying and flat area with very little surface rock.  It had been used for a reseeding experiment.  The only present evidence, after nearly 30years is a few scattered plants of Atriplex nummularia outside the treated plots.   Our visit in 1988 was to attempt sowing of Osteospermumj sinuatum into the Ruschia as nurse plants using a rather inventive handseeder.  I am sure it could only have been this close attention to those nurse plants that drew my attention to the very cryptic plants of ‘granulata’.  (I must mention here the abhorrence that has been expressed at this violation of some sort of ethic that requires the use of virtual the full Latin set of epithets for every mention.  I strongly suspect that this is only to vindicate a wholly false belief in a reality that the names seldom have).

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Volume 5, Chapter 11:- What is Haworthia schoemanii?

Among a plethora of new names, are two really interesting items.

Firstly there is a really useful formalization of a host of old names by Gordon Rowley.  This is something that I understood to be taken as unwritten truth and logic.  While so sensible and practical it almost widens the gulf between the ordinary way we use names to communicate, and the unreal world of formal taxonomy.  I will just give the one example to demonstrate this viz.  H. coarctata subsp. coarctata, var. grandicula ‘Baccata’, or H. coarctata subsp. coarctata ‘Grandicula’ ‘Baccata’  This is a probable botanical truth where in the end there is a population (yet to be formally identified) in which all the plants despite any variability are ‘grandicula’ and something in cultivation (and not wholly improbably in some similar incidences, two quite different clones) that on the available evidence seems to have been drawn from the same population, which is ‘baccata’.

The second item is the name H. schoemanii.  Described by M. Hayashi in Haworthia Study (9:14, 2003), it was said to have one of two close allies viz. H. woolleyii and an H. crausii.  This latter ‘species’ I did not know, or of.  Gerhard Marx kindly sent me the picture that appears in Haworthia Study (4:8, 2000) and I really do not know why this is compared with H. woolleyii.  I would say that it also collapses in the same way and into the same place as ‘Schoemanii’.  Most of the other new names I have been able to assign with very little stress into my own understanding of the system of plants that falls in Haworthia.  However, the illustration of this plant and the comparison with H. woolleyii, again stretches the limits of credibility.  It was said to have been collected on a hill near Dwyka Station.  I must confess that the report that Hayashi found this species by himself is one I find very hard to accredit, being familiar with his modus operandi and field familiarity.  When I was at Dwyka station myself I was under the impression that the plants had been collected by Paul Schoeman for whom it is named.  Had I known the facts I would have been even more skeptical that it had in fact been collected there.  It is said to have thinner and shorter leaves than H. woolleyii and the stem not to elongate as in H. granulata.  I consider this to be fairly threadbare stuff in as much as the number of leaves is not brought into the equation and neither is the variability of H. granulata. At Skitterykloof, Avondrust and Karooport, the plants do not form stems as they do in Verlatenkloof or the Koedoesberg.  At Patatsriver the plants are stemless too and the leaves are fairly thin and erect (This may be the source of ‘Crausii’).  A Harry Hall collection from Skitterykloof was of stemless plants with very long and thin leaves.  I would not say that H. woolleyii makes dense clumps by rhizomes as Hayashi states.  But it does have many long thin leaves broadening of course at the base.  It does cluster, but by offsetting aboveground and very close to the crown of the plant as does H. attenuata  for one.  This can barely be stated to be rhizomatous, which implies an elongated self-rooting horizontal stem with food storage.  The term stoloniferous is applicable to the underground trailing stems or even root-like structures that eventually manifest as new rosettes and that occur in several Haworthia species.  Plants with elongated stems can also be found in H. venosa subsp. tessellata and stoloniferous forms are also common.

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Volume 5, Chapter 10:- Haworthia ‘enigma’ and H. mutica var nigra.

7778 H. mirabilis. Komserante 4900

If the name “H.enigma” applies to the plant (or plants) from east of Riversdale at Komserante, it is a name that I really do not advise to be taken seriously from a botanical point of view.  It is useful at population level and to demonstrate the nature of classification difficulties but it is a minor problem in so far as those difficulties extend.  The plants were first shown to me by J. Dekenah on the same day that he also showed me ”H. magnifica” in the Nature Reserve just south of Riversdale that is less than 3km away.   My impression then was that it was the same element even if it did look a bit different.  The plants are quite large (to 70mm diameter), fairly tubercled and often with lines in the upper retused area of the leaf face.  While I originally classified “H. maraisii” under “H. magnifica”, I later separated them because it seemed so incongruous to include all the variants of the western “H. maraisii” with the few populations of “H. magnifica” then known.  Also, as Essie Esterhuizen pointed out, “H atrofusca” as a variant of “H. magnifica”, seemed to be more dominant than had been realized.  There were several other complications largely due to ignorance.  Since my revision I have done so much more exploration and turned up so much new material that I have been forced to the conclusion that there is really one main element involved and that is H. mirabilis.  This is where I believe the Komserante plants belong and the difference from the Nature Reserve population is due to a degree of infusion of H. retusa.

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Volume 5, Chapter 9:- More on H. floribunda and H. mirabilis

In a recent set of articles (published by the Haworthia Society as??) I wrote the following in connection with H. floribunda… “MBB7738 H. floribunda ‘major’. Swellendam:  These plants were in fact small when first collected and in cultivation grew so large that I coined the name ‘major’ for them.  They do still exist in a very small and disturbed area close to gum trees but curiously in moss free of leaf litter.  I did also find them a little further away in a more grassy area where they are/were more typically small and dark coloured.  I should note that I also recorded this ’dentata’-like version within the Bontebok Park close to where H. mirabilis occurs and I am still committed to again finding that population  in the light of this new material”.

In connection with H. mirabilis, I wrote…”The Dankbaar plants are small versions of this and of course tie up with both older and newer (MBB7704) records for the Bontebok National Park.   2. MBB7743 H. mirabilis. Bontebok Park: Having written that, we did in fact locate still another population and of course it looked different as the area where it occurs had been recently burned and being on a northwest aspect the plants were very exposed and even more cryptic than usual”.

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Volume 5, Chapter 8:- An extension of H. rossouwii

What always comes to mind as I travel through the countryside is the realization of just how much there is to explore.  It takes only an hour of driving from Cape Town to get to the start of Haworthia habitats from any of the three main routes inland.  The roads do not always take in the best routes in respect of suitable or inviting habitats to explore, and besides there is the question of landownership and permission for access.  In recent months my wife and I decided to really make an issue of new exploration and investing time and energy in contacting landowners and looking at places that we have ignored before because of access difficulties.  The result has been a massive set of new finds in respect of populations not previously known to us.  Having other interests such as in Drosanthemum and chameleons has also led us into places we might not have otherwise ventured.

This particular note arises from another chance find. Heidelberg is very rich as far as Haworthia is concerned and I have written quite a lot about the area or referred to populations there. It is a very important area for both H. retusa and H. mirabilis, as well as for H. floribunda and one assumes that the area has been fairly well explored. The Duiwenhoks River offers much suitable Haworthia habitat and I can count at least 30 populations along the drainage system that can be referred to those three species systems.

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Volume 5, Chapter 7:- Haworthia minima

There is not much to write about this less glamorous of plants.  It is one of the Robustipedunculares.  It is very widely distributed and even occurs north of the Langeberg Mountains in the Little Karoo – as does its sister species H. pumila.  The pictures cover a huge range of variants from DeMond in the southwestern area to Riversdale.  I found them all fascinating.  Mostly so perhaps the very few large globose plants we saw at Kleinberg near Malgas (Diepkloof).  But the plants at Koppies are really interesting because they were overlooked for so long.  Koppies is the second known home of H. serrata (now H. rossouwii) and we came to know it also as a refuge for a small population of H. marginata.  It was while we were investigating this that Hennie van Deventer casually pointed to plants of H. attenuata var caespitosa in his garden and said they were also on the farm.   Because of our surprise and of course doubt, he took us to show the plants that he said he had not looked at nor thought of for 20 years – and there they were.  A very small population of large dark coloured plants.

Also interesting were the very small solitary plants on the farm Sandfontein in the Slang River Valley.  At Klipheuwel marginal to the coastal calcretes we also came across the species.  Initially we saw only two plants while searching for ‘retusa-like’ plants.  Failing to find anything else in a very severly grazed field we thought we would return to commiserate with the few H. minima we saw  and enjoy the ambience we always feel in the presence of Haworthia.  One can barely explain how cryptic these plants are and how easily they avoid detection.  We found another 40 plants in the same area abut 10m diameter where we had found but two a short while earlier.

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Volume 5, Chapter 6:- Haworthia floribunda

Again this piece is written against the background of a detailed discussion in Haworthia UpdateVol. 2.   Again I am not able to say the situation is full comprehensible and neither do I want to encourage the daffy view that nature is just too much for us all.  It is really curious that this species is woven into the fabric of H. mirabilis and also into that of H. chloracantha, H. parksiana and H. variegata.  New finds have not clarified the picture so much as added another dimension to an extraordinary display.  Not that H. floribunda is a spectacular species.  In the field it can be extraordinarily cryptic and obscure while in cultivation it is an unlikely favourite.  I do not want to repeat what I have already written while I hope that this will not contradict that either.  H. floribunda seems to occupy a clear niche along the base of the mountains between Albertinia in the east and Swellendam in the west.  It occurs as discrete from any other species although hybrids with both H. retusa and H. mirabilis do occur.  South and west of Heidelberg it seems to lose its identity within H. mirabilis and then emerges briefly in a limited area near the Potberg in the southwest in a ‘mirabilis’ context as well as in H. variegata context.  At Klipfontein farm at the western end of the Potberg it seems to be recognizable in relatively the same form as the very original description.  But let us look at new information.

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Volume 5, Chapter 5:- Haworthia mirabilis

I trust that it is clear by now that I consider H. magnifica, H, maraisii, and H. heidelbergensis to be essentially the same one species and emphasize that it is really a self-evident truth that species are complex systems and not simply a randomly occurring set of similar looking things.  In a recent manuscript submitted to Haworthiad, I wrote about new finds elaborating this point of view.  The essence of this chapter is to discuss exploration focused on clarifying the position in the eastern area between Riversdale and the very problematic H. pygmaea “squadron” that I have also discussed at length.  Prior to the trip I had an ongoing communication with Gerhard Marx and we agreed that H. ‘splendens’ was in fact better fitted in H. mirabilis, the major obstacle for me being the fact that there was no field record nearer than Riversdale itself to substantiate such a view.  I do, however, want to here also record two further populations east of the Breede River and other populations of H. mirabilis west of the Breede and south of anything previously noted.

1. MBB7442 H. mirabilis. Dankbaar:  This population is of small plants but they are not substantially outside of anything noted in any of four compass directions although they do have their own look about them.  I found it quite odd that Cameron McMaster had sent me pictures of a population of H. mirabilis from Fonteinskloof to the southwest of Stormsvlei that reflected the same co-similarities with H. mirabilis and H. marasii that I had recorded at Rondeheuwel south of Stormsvlei.  The Dankbaar plants are small versions of this and of course tie up with both older and newer (MBB7704) records for the Bontebok National Park.


2. MBB7744 H. mirabilis. Bontebok Park: Having written that, we did in fact locate still another population and of course it looked different as the area where it occurs had been recently burned and being on a northwest aspect the plants were very exposed and even more cryptic than usual.


3. MBB7749 and MBB7751 H.mirabilis. Kadies Landing: These two populations are in my opinion tremendously significant.  While H. mirabilis has been reported from this the east bank of the Breede River, it was a very small form such as I recorded for the lower west bank (Ziekenhuis, Aalwee).  The plants we located are down the river from Malgas but on the east bank.  They are not any smaller than the general size of H. mrabilis anywhere in the central area of the range and highly similar to the plants especially in the Bontebok park quite some distance upstream from a very winding river course.  There is thus now a very substantial connection and continuity from west to east and into ‘atrofusca’ that occupies the inland upper areas from west of Heidelberg to east of Riversdale.


4.MBB7753 H. mirabilis ‘toonensis’. Brakkekuil: It is important to note how I have named this as I have no intention of going through the formalities of nomenclature to change anything.  I have been terrorized to my limits by “law” and I think that ethic and common sense can now prevail.  ‘Toonensis’ is only known from Matjestoon southwest of Heidelberg and upstream along the Slang River.  As I explained in the chapter on H. retusa, the Slang River has its own peculiarities and besides which it is quite unexplored. So it is no surprise to find this rather smaller version of H. mirabilis in a second population, differing from the general body by more and smaller more slender leaves.  Naturally there is considerable variation within the population too.  The differences relate to the problem of the Dassieklip and Vermaaklikheid areas where H. retusa and H. mirabilis ‘paradoxa’ and the problem should not be deferred to me as a bad taxonomist but as the reality that there is a major geological contributor to the problem of difference viz. shale vs calcrete.  It is quite obvious in the series of pictures that one can see resemblances to ‘turgida’ and ‘paradoxa’.


5. MBB7761 H. mirabilis ‘splendens’? Plattekop Farm; MBB7762 do. W Platkop;  MBB7763 do. E Plattekop Farm, MBB7765 do. NNW Platkop:  MBB7769 do. Toringskop;  MBB7770 do. W Soetmelksrivier:  I am grouping these together and using the epither ‘splendens’ in an apparently loose and provocative fashion.  This is to deliberately hew away at this mental sludge that isolates the really magnificent and incredible plants from their equally interesting but less glamorous close relatives.  These populations are all on ferricrete inselbergs in virtually any of the three or four main geomorphological derivatives.  The official geosciences description of the Riversdale area makes specific mention of the difference between these and the Soutpan (true ‘splendens’ habitat) by saying that the latter is a pan-area and the relatively thin ferricrete layer apparently developed in a marshy area and close to the surface (opposed to the inselbergs as deeper deposits in underground watersystems in sandstone?).  These populations are what we predicted and they are the direct link between the most easterly known only true H. mirabilis ’magnifica’ at the Frehse Reserve just south of Riversdale.  The element ‘magnifica’ is a phantasm (available as an optional cultivar name as there are many plants in that parent population that do not fit the description?) based on an initial description and limited illustration and has been maintained by myself while trying to resolve the issues in my own mind.  It has been kept alive for me by populations at KomseRante and Kruisrivier that I am about to further explore after writing this particular piece, and that will be a separate chapter.

I cannot say that I have resolved the entire complex puzzle but these populations validate the decision reached with Gerhard that it “feels” right to really include ‘splendens’ with H. mirabilis rather than with H. pygmaea. This is where the actual relation of H. retusa and ‘turgida’ takes on another dimension similar to the H. mutica situation to the west where it is confounded by H. mirabilis.

The most significant population is the last noted one viz MBB7770.  Not only are the plants larger than in other populations they also manifest the general pattern in Haworthia of “flow”.  They resemble true ‘splendens’ that much more than the other populations because they are also geographically closer.  Another oddity is their occurrence in the pure ferricrete at the top of the inselberg that I discussed under H. retusa.  The most extraordinary thing is that this population shares habitat with H. retusa and while I cannot say there are hybrids, it is evident from some of the plants that hybridization may well have occurred despite the big differences in flowering times.


Volume 5, Chapter 4:- Haworthia retusa – part 2

2. MBB7754 H. retusa ‘turgida’. Brakkekuil.  What is most significant about this population is its whereabouts that highlights the overwhelming importance of distribution and geography. The drainage systems (or parts of them) of the Southern Cape drain southwards from the mountains to the sea e.g. Gouritz, Goukou, Duiwenhoks and Lower Breede. These are important especially when it comes to the habitats in the way of exposed rock and steep faces that favour plants requiring skeletal soils. Brakkekuil is on the Slang River that drains southwestwards from near Heidelberg to flow into the Breede River near Malgas. H. retusa ‘turgida’ has not been reported for this entire river system before, while it is present on the Breede River and even westwards at Bredasdorp. So the Brakkekuil population is significant and also significantly different. The plants are neither strictly solitary nor greatly clump-forming and it is not really surprising as this mirrors what happens with H. cooperi in the Eastern Cape in situations that are neither fully cliff face nor plain. The Brakkekuil plants are on the surface of a rocky shale knoll with plants enduring direct exposure to northwestern sun as well as obtaining refuge in the more vegetated and protected slightly southern aspect. It is quite difficult to make reference of individual plants to Latin names, in that variation is already ensconced in the existing system viz. ‘longibracteata’. I gladly concede that all the old names, as Rowley has suggested, can be paraded out again and made use of. In fact I have also said that this is how the contribution of Breuer and Hayashi can be fruitfully used. For my reality this population is H. retusa ‘turgida’ Slangrivier. It is quite the most variable population of the ‘turgida’ side of H. retusa that I have ever seen and there are plants that resemble the more sandstone associated variants (‘caespitosa’) at, say, Tradouw Pass as well as individuals that compare with some of the other populations I will cover from the ferricrete inselbergs. Another very significant observation is the similarity of some plants to those that can be found in H. mirabilis ‘paradoxa’ that is not very far away to the southeast at Vermaaklikheid. There is no doubt that if a full and real understanding of natural systems is to be found it will lie in the realization that even my suggestion favouring a “super species concept” may be conservative. It is actually curious how my treatment of that has been met by readers who have been kind and considerate enough to communicate with me on the issue. The ‘super species” proposal actually comes from Prof Canio Vosa. It is and was not, any attempt to confound anyone or obfuscate the issue. Prof. Vosa is directly addressing the issue that we have a classification that is a sorry marriage of scientist and layman user groups – both ignorant of the full extent of the field situation.

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Volume 5, Chapter 4:- Haworthia retusa – part 1

It has long been my stated contention that H. turgida is in fact a rock face ecotype as opposed to the solitary flat growing H. retusa.  Thus one should expect the multiplicity of forms that are found between, and consequently superfluous to say within each, these two primary types. There are problems outside of this and I will deal with those in the Chapter Haworthia enigma.  Here I am simply going to present pictures representing plants in nine populations of the species.  Most of these populations are of the “typical” solitary form and they all demonstrate variation to greater to lesser degree. Perhaps some special mention should be made of the element H. mutica var. nigra.  I have written at length about this and in doing so strayed widely into H. magnifica and its var. atrofusca (both falling now under H. mirabilis). This is because it is quite certain that there is an element of interaction in the field between the prime elements H. retusa and H. mirabilis  that this summation is intended to expose. The first known H. mutica var nigra from Kransriviermond is possibly the product of such interaction, whereas all the subsequent collections from northwards and westwards are now perceived by me to be variants of H. retusa and H. retusa ’turgida’ (to use a more informal and flexible way of communicating).

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Volume 5, Chapter 3:- Haworthia Deglamorized. A Recapitulation.

Steven Hammer, in his inimitable style, put a very fresh face on Haworthia in CSJl 80:140 (2008).  He drew attention to the wonder of the plants in cultivation for the collector, contrasted to a reality of unglamorous scruffiness in the field as per the lens and pen of Bayer.  It has fallen to my lot as a very unwilling taxonomist to reduce the fascination these plants have for me, and for so many others, to the mundane vortex of labels, their proliferation and continual amendment.  The fact is whether on a label or on the tongue, a name is a part of any language we use to talk to each other; but we are not learning anything from a well-documented history and in Haworthia seem to remain lost in a maze.

The unhappy truth for Haworthia is that by the time von Poellnitz in Germany, G.G.Smith in South Africa, F. Resende in Portugal, A.J.A. Uitewaal in Holland,  W.Triebner in Namibia, J.W.Dodson and J.R.Brown in USA had either left or abandoned the scene, there were any number of names that meant very little more than the Latin they were written in.  J.R. Brown presented a talk, A brief review of the Genus Haworthia,  to the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society that was published in the Cactus and Succulent Journal of America 29:125-135 (1957).  He noted the number of species and varietal names at 160 and 370 (!) respectively, arranged in 20 sections.

While J.R. Brown was winding down (his last note on Haworthia was published in 1970), I was busy trying to make sense of a two large files that seemed to form the body of a manuscript by G.G.Smith for which Mrs. M. Courtenay-Latimer had drafted a title… “A monograph of the genus Haworthia.”  This manuscript comprised a collection of all current species descriptions arranged in the purported twenty sections of Berger and accompanied by many illustrations from the original publications, as well as by many of Smith’s own photographs and those of H.G.Fourcade.  We know that Smith retired in a huff, but was there really good reason for his exit?

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Volume 5, Chapter 2:- Haworthia Reality Check

Clichés may often fall into the category of often repeated untruths that come to be believed.  One I have used too often is… ”The problem is…”, without ever seemingly being to explain what it actually was.  I studied Oxalis and it seemed that where there was an awful amount of detail to explain difference, all this detail simply obscured the fact of similarity.   So what I did is “reverse engineer” the process and apply the principle to Haworthia where I have for so long tried fruitlessly to explain that we were all explaining and accepting that there was difference based on detail.

I made some progress in finding facts to support this contention in the approximate 40 populations of Haworthia in the Zuurberg that seem to suggest that plants looking as different as H. cooperi and H. cymbiformis may be the same species.  However, this was not very convincing.

Recently I had reason to explore more populations in the arena of a larger problem in H. mirabilis where I may be considering as many as 400 populations or many more.   Illustrated by the following sample pictures:- … It is now my contention that different as all these single plants appear to be, they are in fact members of one species.  The inference is drawn from observations of approximately 150 populations occurring in a geographically coherent pattern in the restricted area between Worcester and Riversdale and southward to the coast.  The inference is strengthened by the observations of similar continual intergradation of variation in similar sets of populations throughout the distribution range of the genus.

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Volume 5, Chapter 1:- Winding down on Haworthia

During the last half of 2008 I decided that I would make a last concerted effort to try and further clarify the uncertainty of classification of these plants.  This involves the usual introspection, retrospection and reflection.  Where are we now and what do we understand?   I have had considerable correspondence and interchange of ideas with many enthusiasts.  There is a huge disparity between what I write and what other authors do and there are definitely massive misunderstandings.  The one reason is the obvious one that we each create our own realities and can only interpret the world around us in terms of our own experience and individual capacities.  The second reason is that there are flaws in the entire information system in which we operate.

Much of my correspondence has involved trying to bring someone through the very simple barrier of what a species is and what a Latin binomial is supposed to convey.  Several correspondents have remarked that they follow my revision ”Haworthia Revisited” and cannot reconcile themselves with what I have subsequently written.  Particularly revealing is the reaction to a very brief item I wrote entitled “A reality check” (reprinted in this publication).  In that piece I submitted six pictures of very different plants and stated that they were all the same one species.  Respondents expressed surprise that I could say that these were the same (thing), basing their opinions only on the fact that the plants looked so different.  They lose sight of the fact that this is the reality of “species”. The members of a species are not all the same and especially not outwardly; and to confuse the sameness of members of a genetic system with the sameness of superficial resemblance, lies at the heart of classification and identification problems.

Gordon Rowley kindly sent me a copy of an article by Sandra Knapp FLS entitled…”Naming Nature: The future of the Linnaean System”. Erudite and academic as the article is, is exposes the fact that there is a problem inherent in the system without actually defining what the problem is.  It seems to me that the alarm bells of a sinking ship are being taken for sounds inherent to the structure and performance of the ship. The problem is that here is not the universal definition of what a species is and Knapp informs us that attempting to arrive at one is ”ultimately not practical in the short or long term”.   My opinion is that a statement like this simply adds fuel to the fire.  We have to define the word species and in doing do recognize that in their very nature species are not equivalent.

It is botanists themselves who have led us into this morass of names where the whole process of classification and nomenclature is an intellectual and juristic minefield.  As collectors, growers and enthusiasts we have come to believe that a Latin name pins a plant into place simply by virtue of superficial resemblance.  This is where we fail.  Knapp cites Darwin as being unconcerned that the exact definition of a species was difficult to pin down.  My opinion is that this statement is at the core of the matter.  It is not the definition that is difficult to pin down.  What is difficult to pin down is where any plant (organism) fits in any of the boxes we want to fabricate.  There is absolutely no need to vacillate about a species definition because we do not know enough about the things we want to organize accordingly.

My plea to Haworthiophiles is now to try and think clearly and recognize that the formal system of latin binomials is primarily the domain of scientists.  They have not set us a very good example and we need to adapt our outlook and the way in which we approach the use of Latin names.

In these now twilight notes of mine I will use an informal system of naming and describe some really interesting experiences and finds that follow the very path that Knapp suggests will lead us forward.  Gordon Rowley wryly observed that “Bayer changes his mind”.  This is because I have been getting on with the job and using names, just as Knapp proposes; as hypotheses, subject to continual testing and change as I gain better insights into processes and pattern in the field where the plants are.  There is a misplaced confidence in technology and laboratory based methods that simply are no substitute for the information that is needed from direct field observation and experience.

There is one very disturbing aspect.  This is that there are commercial and egocentric interests in opposition to mine that may be using my information for their own interests and to the detriment of sensitive habitats and populations.  It is thus very distressing to know that the joy and delight these plants have given me on so many occasions is threatened or marred by the need I have felt to write about them.  I have been taken to task for revealing localities.  The thing is that there can be no understanding of these plants unless the spatial and distributional aspects are known and understood.  There is no way in which my writing can stand as a valid hypothesis that can be tested and refined without this critical element in the constitution of a sensible view of what species are.  I firmly believe that there is no merit in secrecy.  It is not my role to play policeman and neither do I think that strict conservation laws and implementation have any merit where they deny the expression of natural curiosity and wonder about this incredible creation around us.  What is important is for us as individuals to realize that we live in an extraordinary creation that is a conscious one and that we are individually tied to it and responsive to it.  We are responsible for it and to it: we need to get back to caring for it rather than scraping what we can out of it.

I have also not written all this because of what someone really unkindly suggested was my need to write.  I am writing now because I feel an obligation to do so, having started in an era where the available classification was simply woeful and ending in a situation that is a history repeating itself.  It is not about Haworthia, it is about what is true and what is meaningful.  It is about how we understand nature and about what nature should mean to us.  We have an incredible creation and it is time we woke up to the reality of its beauty and its purpose.  God did not write a single book that so many different elements of our society claim as one that only they possess and understand.  If there is any book it is everywhere around us as our birthright.

Haworthia Updates Vol. 5 – Table of Contents

Haworthia Updates vol. 5