Gravitational collapse and black holes in Haworthia (1997)

Bruce Bayer
29 Weltevreden Str., Paarl, 7646 South Africa.

I think Haworthia is a gremlin genus.  For some reason or other the rays of clear thought and good sense become distorted and bent as they pass by.  Is it perhaps a black-hole that takes nothing in but easily lets nonsense out?  In making the following comments I try to take into account how the black-hole affects me.  I ask myself what causes this gravitational warp, because you cannot dabble in Haworthia and not know that you are a potential Haworth, Resende, Uitewaal, Smith, Baker, Von Poellnitz, Scott, Bayer and/or Simple controversial Simon.  As a holist, I have been tempted to ascribe ‘warp’ to some sort of homeopathic toxic ingredient in the plants themselves.  However, the inescapable truth is that it lies in human weaknesses such as ego, ignorance, envy and other lesser virtues.  These warp factors also influence this response to Haworthiad 11, No.1:-

1. Ingo Breuer’s article.
1.1 – He writes of H. angustifolia fa. baylissii, it ‘does not require forma status’.  What is the big deal behind this remark?.  His figure 3 (Haworthiad 11:16) is labelled ‘from Oudekraal’ and his figure 4, ‘from type locality’.  The first is apparently a plant from my own collection from the type locality of the second, which is the forma baylissii of Scott from Oudekraal.  Peter Bruyns has also collected this latter ‘form’ from Oudekraal.  There is to my knowledge (based on Bayliss, van Jaarsveld, Bruyns and own shoe-leather) not a clear range of intermediates between this broad-leaved form and a more typical narrow-leaved version.   Where does Breuer get this new information from and how can his opinion be verified?  Bruyn’s collection is the most meaningful but has Breuer seen it and if so why does he not properly acknowledge it.  By naming it as a species, Scott has made H. baylissii a factual and integral part of the history and understanding of the genus.  I have kept the name at varietal level in the  manuscript of the Newer Handbook for that reason – and further as a pointer and tool for the extension of ideas.  Col Scott presented an hypothesis and it cannot be dismissed it summarily.  I am not presuming innocence here either.  The unanswered questions still are: what meaning does this broad-leaved form have?  and is the population at Oudekraal perhaps indicative of a missing transition to H. zantneriana?.  The questions may never be solved satisfactorily and the name will be dropped in the same way that ‘uitewaaliana’ and ‘poellnitziana’ have been and will be.  But they remain a part of the interesting story nevertheless.

1.2 – of pehlemanniae he gives ‘reasons’ (or at least he says he does and also uses the word ‘therefore’ which implies that there is actually a reason) why it should be a variety of H. arachnoideaH. gigas V.Poelln. did not come from between Ladismith and Laingsburg, but from between Ladismith and Calitzdorp and it is not necessarily the same ilk as the hard-spined plants from around Laingsburg.  Ingo does not say what relevance this has to the status of pehlemanniae either.  The tradition in botany has been to put floral ahead of vegetative characters.  Here Ingo seems to think the floral resemblances (if identical is down-played) between globosiflora and pehlemanniae are less significant than the ill-defined vegetative similarities of arachnoidea and pehlemanniaeH. arachnoidea is a problem of some proportion and I do recognise there is a variant around Laingsburg (scabrispina) which co-occurs with pehlemanniae.  To say the latter ‘should be given status as a subsp. of arachnoidea‘ on the basis of a non-argument, adding absolutely zilch to existing knowledge (in fact ignoring and losing information in the process) is unfortunate.  It further only touches on the problem that if you start excising bits of arachnoidea do you know where you will end?  Its easy, as Schelpe said, if you only have two or three collections to fiddle with.

1.3 – H. aranea has the opaque darker-green leaves of the arachnoidea group and is continuous with that group.  It has no continuity with the translucent and blue-green leaves of H. bolusii.  Breuer adds nothing new about the bolusii/cooperi problem except to add an incorrect statement about var. blackbeardiana making no offsets.  In his introductory comments he makes claims about all the (previously) unused morphological characters which he has considered, and then makes an incorrect statement like this.  Ingo actually claims that his discussion takes into consideration the gamut of morphological characters as well as geographical locations.  This is untrue and obviously so from the discussion.  A statement like this in the context of his article makes a mockery of the little work which has been done on the genus and perpetuates a myth about science.  This myth is that somebody can be in the know for something the less educated or the more gullible should simply ackowledge as so.  As a soft aside, there are forms of cooperi which can be claimed not to make offsets either.  Like there are forms of marumiana (nigra, zantneriana and limifolia too) which do make stolons as opposed to forms that do not.  I wish Ingo had been at the Aloe congress in Pretoria in August ’96 and listened to, and digested, my suggestion.  This was that prospective Haworthia taxonomists should be required to first devastate the taxonomy of at least four other genera before they mess with that of Haworthia.

1.4 – H. radula has no apparent discrete existence from that of H. attenuata.  It was kept as a species because I had very little information to demonstrate otherwise, and Ingo again offers no new information to support a purely cosmetic change.  Furthermore it remains an interesting variant.  Gordon Rowley was critical of me for ignoring cultivars and here I am made to feel stupid for maintaining a real and unexplained phenomenon in the non-horticultural realm.  Ironically the one collection I thought might provide a clue to the separate existence of H. radula (at whatever rank) has been chosen by Breuer as the neotype of H. attenuata in an exercise which I also think is a little unfortunate.

1.5 – The thing that frightens me is that Ingo seems to have assumed some kind of mantle of hard accomplished omniscience.  This is again reflected in his opinion about batesiana and marumiana, which he suggests is new.  I left them separate because there was no substantial evidence to then lump them in the obvious way that Ingo now suggests.  What is the sense of making changes which are simply another groundless statement of opinion and personal conviction (guesswork).  What we need is evidence and new facts.  If that evidence is there, which it now is (and some indeed was in published form), what is this provisional suggestion worth?  It should be written in the context of already published opinion and supported by something new, however slight.

1.6 – H. blackburniae/graminifolia.  Ingo makes a thoroughly vague and again incorrect statement about their respective distribution ranges and that ‘intermediate forms are known’.  Where are they and who are they known by.  This kind of basis for opinion-making lies at the heart of the problems with Haworthia taxonomy.  I refrained from making the same wild guess because I have spent a lot of time in the respective distribution ranges of the two species concerned and not found what I am guessing at.

1.7 – coarctata/reinwardtii.  Ingo’s comments here do me a thoroughly bad service.  To say ‘the forms known today’ suggests that he actually has discovered something unknown to even Smith.  If Ingo was as familiar with the literature and lore of the genus as any aspiring expert/authority should be, he would have perceived that the problem within the species coarctata and reinwardtii has very little significance at all.  The subspecies, varieties and forms within them are simply related to the communication process and the core of the matter is – is there any sense, for the audience with whom we are dealing, in lumping the two species or not?  The unsubstantiated comments earlier about transitional forms is true for these two species – so what is the big deal in lumping blackburniae and graminifolia for which the statement in the herbarium record (if none other) is untrue, and keeping coarctata and reinwardtii (for which the statement is true), separate?.  Is Breuer unhappy about the 4 forms of reinwardtii which are taxonomic and material realities in a species which he can hardly profess to know any better than Resende did?  Whatever the taxonomist does with a published name, does not erase that name from the record.  Smiths ‘olivacea’ and ‘zebrina’ will always be a part of the history of the genus and people interested in the species would probably like to see and acquire these variants which Smith thought distinctive enough to describe.  It does not help here to say ‘Kaffirdrift’, and it is quite clear from the literature (apart from the three varieties from there which Smith described) why this is so.  So reference to locality is not always adequate for the purposes of the ‘Hawfolk’.  In my opinion I did not think that ‘baccata’, ‘musculina’, ‘fulva’ etc. would be as notable.  The var. greenii has substance in two populations and the plants are distinctive in the species.  The variation adelaidensis has more substance but it is actually less distinctive than greenii.  In reinwardtii, the fa olivacea has more substance than the fa zebrina, and they are both very distinctive.  Quibling about subspecies, varietal and forma ranking is pretentious nonsense.

1.8 – cymbiformis/reddii.  What does Ingo mean when he says ‘should be’, when even ‘could be’ is a weak statement in the light of the discussion which precedes it.  On what is his opinion based?   His analysis leaves me breathless and I have been punched unfairly in the solar plexus like this before.  Is there really a different set of criteria here than is the case of coarcata and reinwardtii.  There is a major problem in definitively separating what is recognisable as cymbiformis, from gracilis  from cooperi and from mucronata;  and here we have this apparently authoritative statement of the true condition within cymbiformis.

1.9 – emelyae/multifolia.  The comments are extremely weak.  eg.  ‘I have seen lots of plants belonging to this taxon and I am convinced that two distinct species…’.  Steven Hammer and Kobus Venter have fortunately sorted out the problem here – rationally.

1.10 – H. fasciata.  Yes I do not know why the fibrous leaves in this species have never been used to separate it from attenuata.  The rank ‘forma’ is just that, and the comments above refer.  ‘browniana‘ just happens to be a distinctive form which someone formally named.  It has thus become a formal taxon and it is anyway within the ‘natural variability’ of the species which the rank forma implies.  It is an intrinsic part of the history of the genus and whether or not it deserved recognition is quite irrelevant.  Dr Hayashi incidentally maintains that the one population is not vegetatively derived.

1.11 – H. floribunda.  Ingo refers to Bayer (1976) but in what context is difficult to know.  In 1976 I refer to populations north and south of Albertinia as chloracantha var denticulifera and in 1982 (I do hope that there is not some kind of chronological priority attached to perceptions as there is to published names, that I am unaware of) I also specifically mention the Albertinia connection.

1.12 – I must add one last comment here.  Ingo Breuer’s written opinion of my classification of Haworthia leaves me unmoved as I do not think on the basis of the above, that it is a really competent one.  His opinion is only worth as much as he truthfully knows and apparent in what he has written and I am not very impressed.  The specimens in the Pretoria herbarium, those in the Bolus herbarium and those in the Compton herbarium are arranged according to my classification.  The abridged account of the species in the Cape Flora will follow that arrangement too.  A classification is an hypothesis built on a testable foundation of fact.  A revision represents the current state of knowledge.  That is going to change and hence a revision will again become necessary.  My Newer Handbook represents another step and in its completion lie the foundations of the next step.  Whether that step is backward or forward is the collective responsibility of your readers and others who ever come to consult the revised version.  They should ensure that writers and aspirant taxonomists like Ingo and myself, apply reasonable standards of factualness, evidence, accuracy, competence, experience, literacy, disinterestedness, and organised scepticism to their work.  They should also be sure they can measure these things and are fit to do so.  I hope Haworthiad will take that responsibility seriously because it is, as an individual, a very difficult thing to do.  If it appears that I have ever pretended to be more than a seeker after a truthful account of the genus, trying to separate what might have come from a car-boot sale, from what can be ascribed to more natural processes, my apology is unconditional.  I am trying very hard to understand why we have made so little progress since the acrimony of 1947.

2. Stephen Holloway.  Trying to sort out the nomenclature of H. minima is fairly easy (I suppose), but that of its bigger relative is actually the confusing ‘Historia maxima’ of his which caught my eye.  The facets of this puzzle are about as easy to follow as the legs of a demented millipede.  I think there are some mis-steps in Stephen’s article but would hate to be asked to nail them down.  There are 5 early illustrations of Commelin, Bradley and Dillenius about which most of the problem revolves.  Two Commelin plates are t10 and t11 of 1703 – the first is the big job (pumila and margaritifera sensu Bayer and partly sensu Scott).  The second and the others, and particularly Bradley (leaves less than 1inch long), are H. minima.  I think it is now generally accepted that the epithet margaritifera is typified by Commelin t10.  However, Haworth’s Haworthia margaritifera is based on Bradley and is therefore a later synonym of H. minima and unavailable for a different species.  After all the big guns have so befuddled this nomenclatural issue (as I wrote in the Nat.Cact.Succ.Jl about 1976), I am just doing my own thing and am applying the name Haworthia maxima (Haw.) Duval.  Haworthia pumila (Ait.) Duval is based on Boerhaave t130 and is thus synonymous with H. herbacea.  (NOTE:- the rules of nomenclature change at regular intervals in accordance with the needs of the moment and you do not have to have much interest in plants to fiddle with them.  My contact with botanists and taxonomists over a very long period also does not let my discomfort with the International Code faze me in the least.  It is apparently an occupational hazard.  The whole effort also becomes pretty wasted and senseless when it comes to be applied in a half-witted way.  As suggested below, Col Scott has a perception of H. maxima which is quite different from the herbarium facts, and in Part 2 of his article, Ingo also appears to confound maxima and minima).

3. Lucio Russo.  A very insightful letter and I think he may be right in his diagnosis of asepsis in the sense that he means of uninteresting and unexciting.  It was the fresh candour and enthusiasm of Haworthiad and its members, and their complete lack of taxonomic pretension, that I too admired.  More strength to the writing arm of Bill Jackson.

4. Essie Esterhuizen.  Very good authoritative comment.  Essie has appreciated that understanding Haworthia is not one or two or even several casual visit to the country, but a lot of hard footwork over a long period of time.  He unfortunately misquotes one of my earliest publications and puts things out of context.  I was actually shown three population by P.L. Meiring himself at Drew where he said he collected H. poellnitziana, also roughly indicated to me by George Payne.  One population (it was just one in about 1971 – there is one surviving plant at time of writing) which I simply ommitted from my discussion because I still think it is/was of hybrids (there is more to this). It is of a second population that I wrote:- ‘indicate that H. poellnitziana may be of hybrid origin’.  Essie starts his quote with ‘H. poellnitziana‘, which is misleading.  He finishes it with ‘can be regarded as a variety of H. margaritifera‘ and leaves out ‘for the present’.  The problem lay with the second population which I have never disputed as being very very like H. minima if not H. minima itself.  Most commentators only base their opinion on this second population which I introduced to cultivation.  I retained the name for the record because I did not know what the right solution is and leaving the taxon there invites investigation.  Unfortunately what mostly happens is mis-informed comment which adds absolutely nothing to what is already known and recorded in the literature or herbarium, and even ignores much of what there is.  Guesswork and laboured elaborate opinion are built on new foundations of sand and the old substantial bits are left to erode away forgotten.

Essie also makes an interesting observation ‘Although it is often mentioned that H. minima grows under renosterbos…’.  The only time and place I have heard this mention is actually in Col Scott’s book.  I raise the point because the good ‘Hawfolk’ are inundated with inaccuracies.  Renosterbosveld is a vegetation type in which the species Renosterbos is dominant.  It is a weedy invasive indigenous species which invades disturbed areas and the plants are fairly short-lived.  The veld-type is on the ecotone between Fynbos and Karoid vegetation and most of the Southern Cape species are probably represented in it.  It is probably a poor mother- or nurse plant for Haworthia which generally occur in stable rocky habitats where competition with other plants is reduced (shallow, rocky soils), but somewhere a representative of practically every relevant Haworthia species will be found under a Renosterbush.  The significance of H. poellnitziana, whatever its rank, is that it lies geographically where it does among both H. marginata and also H. pumila.  The taxon surely, I ask, is not the one plant which Mr X has in his collection, it also includes the historic record and facts which surround its conception.  The funny thing about the whole issue is the significance of Col Scott’s distribution map of his H. pumila and selected specimens.  It suggests that he does not in fact distinguish between minima sensu Bayer and pumila sensu Bayer.  If Breuer wants to make a proper contribution, he should toddle off to the herbarium at Amsterdam, find Uitewaal’s specimen of poellnitziana and substantially prove it to be one thing or the other – if the answer is indeed that simple.  The track record for ESM of leaf surfaces is poor and there is a warning attached to the use of sophisticated techniques.  An apparently technical claim that this technique or something like ‘Palynological conclusions based on ESM and Atomic Force Microscopy’ [1] should not be taken at face value.  There are indeed dangers in both approaches – the thumb-suck and the serious investigation – leading to the same nonsensical result.  One can also go to a great deal of trouble to nail a name down in a nomenclaturally septic state and make a complete mess of its application.

Incidentally I have not seen the original Alida Withoos’ painting.  Can anyone tell me if or why this is H. minima and not H. maxima?

Now there is some more irony here and I have to quote almost in full.  Page 19, para. bottom right ‘it is very difficult to distinguish between this species (poellnitziana) and H. minima judging from plants seen in the Karoo Botanical Gardens at Worcester.  Howard Gie wrote in Aloe 24 No 1, “The plants were very impressive, but the visitors were not generally impressed with the status of these plants..” page break!.  As an ordinary reader I simply assumed that over the page would read “as a separate species from H… “minima“.  But it does not.  It reads “margaritifera“.  Quite unwittingly it seems Essie has made the point that I wanted to make about there being a problem determining where it should actually belong.  In essence, the ‘Hawfolk’ were not impressed by the plants as being either H. minima or H. maxima (pumila, margaritifera sensu Bayer 1976) and neither were their informed mentors able to agree.  In addition it is not actually certain that what Essie saw is what Howard Gie and his group saw.  Some plants were brought to the Karoo Garden from the Drew area which were assumed by the collectors to be aspirant ‘poellnitziana‘ and may have even been labelled as such.  My recording skills let me down there.  I cannot begin to explain the ramification that Masahiko Hayashi brings to this discussion in seeking a connection between H. minima and an ‘attenuata‘ complex which includes that species and H. fasciata.

The text of the Newer Handbook is written and there are indeed problems.  There is a great deal of new information which unfortunately does not resolve the outstanding ones.  It simply confirms that there are alternative solutions and that these are likely to have the same weaknesses that the current Handbook has.  In fact my one fear is that I have made some changes which are not necessarily better solutions than the ones I offered before.  What I do fear is some Don Quixote rushing in to offer other more senseless solutions with less attempted honesty and truthfulness, and with even more ignorance.  There is a very big issue here which relates to the whole process of classification as a communication process.  I was surprised to see an Abbey Garden (USA) catalogue where it they refer to my handbook and imply that it is the reason for the continued confusion in Haworthia.  The reason for the continued confusion is that there is just so little discriminant thought.  Very bluntly, my opinion is that the confusion is in the mind of whoever wrote the words.

I do find myself a little disturbed because I think those silent readers that Russo calls the ‘genuine Hawfolk’, are being and have been, led up the garden path by a bunch of frauds who really do not know an awful lot.  It is time that some arbiter with integrity and sincerity came to the fore and brought some balance to the scene.

    [1]. I feel privileged to have a copy of Dr L. Dreyers thesis on pollen studies in Oxalis which she gave to me for my small contribution.  She uses this AFM technique and clearly sets out what happens when we begin to see more closely.  It is a case of the more we see, the more to see there is.