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.

1. Haworthia minima.

Two new populations of this widespread species are recorded:-

MBB7807 Swartrug, SE Heidelberg.  This is a steepish east facing slope.  The plants are small, the leaf length barely exceeding 50mm and with a tendency to form clusters in the shallow clay banks that rift the area. There are many plants in quite a small area and it curious to see them within very large clumps of Euphorbia tridentata.  This Euphorbia itself has a strange geographic distribution being known at Riversdale, Calitzdorp and then at Cradock in the Eastern Cape. (see Figs 1)

7807 H.minma. Swartrug, SE Heidelberg 003

MBB7813 NW Skeiding, E Tradouw Pass.  This is a high rainfall area and we were expecting to find H. mirabilis in the lower pressure bursts and white clay that can be seen from the farmhouse far away.  But instead we came across H. minima at the highest point of the hill among sparse grass.  They are rather green in colour and it is interesting to note in the one plant pictured that it has non-tuberculate upper leaf surfaces and white cartilaginous margins and keel of the leaves. (see Figs 2)

2. Haworthia rossouwii.

MBB7803b Morning Star, S Heidelberg.  Morning Star was known to J.Dekenah but the area has been very developed since those years.  It was very surprising to find this small form in abundance at the top of a high hill in ferricrete pebbles and virtually no vegetation ground cover.  However on this subsequent visit we crossed through an internal farm fence and found the plants in abundance about 150m further away and over quite a large area.  We later looked at a lower promising hillside and small area nearer the Morning Star homestead and found the plants again. (see Figs 3)

3. Haworthia mirabilis.

This item reports on 6 populations, three of which are new.  They confirm the continuity down the Duiwenhoks River and also southwards and westwards from east of Riversdale through to west of Robertson and Greyton and Napier to the south of that.  Attention is drawn to south of Heidelberg where the ‘enigma’tic relationship of this species with H. retusa is suspected.

MBB7808 Swartrug,  SE HeidelbergThis farm is well known as the source of ‘Haworthia chromatica’ that I dismissed as an element in the complex surrounding the e H.retusa (mutica) ‘nigra’.  The names Droekloof and Doringkloof have been used while the map reference gives Diepkloof for a large area extending to west of the Duiwenhoks River.  The plants are on an east facing boulder terrace in a stony low bush site with some grass.  The plants are small and show the expected wide range of variation.  They are fairly similar to the plants in the lichen patch just east of Heidelberg that I have always mistakenly taken to be the origins of H. heidelbergensis, but here are subtle differences that mark a population difference, but I will come back to this. (see Figs 4)

MBB7809 Koeisekop, SE Heidelberg.  This is on the same farm and a similar ferricrete hillside southwards.  There are several hilltops by the same name in the general area and I cannot even speculate on the origins of the name (“cowshead”).  The plants are larger than in the previous population and very abundant.  The similarity to populations in the Swellendam and Riviersonderend area is in my opinion striking.  Odd clones are miniature images of H.mirabilis from the southwestern populations west of Napier. (see Figs 5)

MBB7220 Morning Star,   S Heidelberg.  I have discussed this population before and I repeat it here because I did not have many field photographs.  It is only 300m from the Morning Star MBB7221 H. retusa ‘nigra’’population and they flower and seed virtually in unison.  Therefore they probably also reflect on the strange interaction between the two major systems. What I have surmised is that H. floribunda gets absorbed into H. mirabilis at the southern limits of its distribution and in these pictures there is clear evidence of the rounded and flattened leaf tips of that species.  Therefore we may actually here have a three way species interaction.  Re-inforced by the presence of three different things at Kransriviermond, covered later under 4. H.retusaturgida’.  (see Figs 6a and b)

MBB7221 Morning Star

MBB7811 Kransriviermond, S Heidelberg.  Populations further down the Duiwenhoks river have been reported on and this one fall within that mould and the same one as the previous Swartrug and Koeisekop populations.  The population is smaller and the plants too are quite small. (see Figs 7)

MBB7814 Skeiding, W Heidelberg.  This area is also reported on but digital photography makes it so much easier to record the enormous variability that such populations exhibit.  Some of the plants are typically ‘atrofusca’ while others have leaves ended in an awn. Leaf surface may be smooth and there is even an indication of smooth leaves.  What is notable is the absence of H. floribunda from what is the sort of habitat it can be associated with and can one can speculate its absorption into H. mirabilis with leaf shapes that demonstrate this.  H. floribunda does appear again about 15km to the southwest in association with H. retusa and in the absence of H. mirabilis. (see Figs 8)

MBB7233 Die Plotte, Heidelberg.   “H. heidelbergensis” correctly has its origin in this near vicinity and these small summer flowering elements are certainly part of a large assemblage of populations in the central area of what I now come to see as all H.mirabilis.   Here discussion must pass to the following. (see Figs 9)

4. Haworthia retusa ‘turgida’.

A difficulty that I experience is in the need to dismiss the impression and general idea we have that there are tiered ranks.  H. retusa has many populations and past treatment has placed most of the variants in H. turgida.  To suggest that these are really two separate systems is not realistic and confounds any explanation for a few anomalies that exist.

MBB7810 Tierkloof, SE Heidelberg.  Tierkloof is quite a deep valley that pushes out of the Duiwenhoks to the east.  We found this huge population of large clump forming plants and several such populations are known just north of Heidelberg itself.  I have applied the epithet ‘longebracteata’ to these and this is no more satisfactory than generating names for each of a very wide range of populations.  There are populations along the Duiwenhoks that are far more inclined to the ‘turgida’ element and Essie Esterhuizen wrote a very good account of the host of variable populations that he encountered. (see Figs 10)

MBB7812 Kransriviermond, S Heidelberg. We only saw three plants at this locality and these plant mirror the preceding, if a bit smaller.   The problem here is that we also have the element I myself described and named as H. retusa ‘mutica’  and I originally linked this “variety” with H.. mutica  following what G.G.Smith had done and for predictive reasons.  The fact that ‘turgida’ now occurs with it is a huge hurdle to cross.  Think carefully. (see Figs 11)

MBB7804 Kransriviermond.  I have written about his population in the chapter “Haworthia enigma”.  This explains that the plants are not all leaden-black as perceived.  They are spring flowering – as ‘turgida’ is.  However, the range of forms and colour virtually replicates the plants in MBB7721 at Morning Star (pictures in the “enigma” chapter) where they are spring flowering.  Across the river from both these populations is a weak population of small plants of H. mirabilis (7811 above) summer flowering.  We know that this major difference in flowering season is not a total barrier to hybridization. (see Figs 12)

MBB7234 Die Plotte, Heidelberg.  This is a population of large clump forming plants on a north slope about 300m south of MBB7233 H. mirabilis ‘heidelbergensis’.  It is spring flowering.  When I first saw these plants I dismissed (actually I never dismiss anything –I maintain reservations as I do now) these plants as large variants of ‘heidelbergensis’,  and actually collected one magnificent specimen that looked to me just like H. mirabilis, say, from west Napier.  Looking at the range of variation one is compelled to concede that here again is an infusion of H. mirabilis into a population that is primarily H. retusa in that vast shadowland it casts with ‘turgida’. (see Figs 13)


I add these comments for several reasons surrounding the poor image that collectors have in the eyes of conservationists, and the very rickety fence I therefore occupy. There is a note reprinted in a recent issue of the newsletter To the Point.  This taken from Times magazine and seems to be a rather hyped up condemnation of widespread destruction based on a view of internet websites.  These are also monitored by RSA law enforcement that is rightfully disturbed by the high number of locality and collector citations that are indicative of illegal collecting.  I personally no longer apply for a “collecting” permit for the prime reason that I am concentrating on photographic record, as a herbarium record no longer serves any better practical short term purpose. The herbaria are overburdened and I prefer living plants to dead ones.  After 70 years of field activity I feel treated like a pariah and reduced to subservience under less-informed inexperienced people operating under a rigid and oppressive legislation aimed at acquiring a prosecution rather than wisely trying to direct activity in a positive direction.  This activity of collection is, and I have no doubt about this either, a human right imbedded in the very reason for creation and our place in it.  Conservation has its roots in the passion that people have for nature and it is nurtured by experience, contact and knowledge of its varied components.  It is just ridiculous that one can go to any animal or plant centre here in South Africa and see plants and animals from anywhere else in the world and none indigenous.  It is Ok to, say, keep Madagascan Chameleons in captivity where it is someone else’ responsibility to secure them. But keeping local ones is taboo?   It is OK to freely sell cacti that do not occur here but are now being dug out in tons in (if that is really true).  Recently it has become illegal to so much as possess Encephalartos latifrons and even the National Botanic gardens can no longer propagate and sell this plant.  While we talk “plant indigenous” on all public fronts, the fact is that the acquisition, cultivation and sale of indigenous plants is viewed in the most negative light – a viewpoint encouraged by conservators.

This is control by law, a large degree of pure ignorance and by improper application of power derived from legislation.  This is not the way to go.  It is quite evident from the Times magazine article that legislation has the negative effect of creating a false value and glamour to discovery, latin names, acquisition and possession.  I believe that knowledge and understanding is true power, not legislation and enforcement.

The collecting numbers, localities and information provided here is to promote understanding and knowledge of plants, and thereby to promote their continued existence against all the vagaries of nature that “threaten” them, least of it which may be actually human greed.


I am glad to acknowledge the company, comments and interest of Gerhard Marx and whose organization sceptisism I also value.  Landowners always impress me with their generosity and graciousness in allowing us access.  On this occasion they include Mr and Mrs. Nelie and Wimpie Jacobs of Diepkloof, Mr Cloete and Belinda Fourie of Melkboom (B&B), Mr and Mrs. Coetzee and Sarita Uys of Morning Star, Messrs Christo and Pieter van Deventer of Doornvlei, Mr and Mrs Neels and Anne-Lise Uys of Skeiding (B&B) and then Ms Jennifer Steggie of Heidelberg.  In view of the comments on conservation noted above, I note that there are several farms that now offer accommodation and an outdoors experience and the opportunity to view these plants in their extraordinary natural surroundings.