Enigma 1. Another open letter

A letter to the Editor of Haworthiad, Mr Harry Mays.


Dear Harry,

Thank you for the recent Haworthiad and your letter.

I have also just been asked to speak at the IOS congress (20 Min) so it will be nice to see you there.  No, you said Borgman and Breuer had asked for their manuscript not to be released prior to publication.  I have glanced at it now and initially thought it really may be quite good.   There were some critical comments which I was going to make thinking arrogantly perhaps that I could maybe help the authors to greater heights.  There did not seem to be anything new here and it looked if these two were promising to keep you in manuscript for the next millennium.

I did think you might not like to publish my comments but as I progressed I found myself getting more and more irritated and my writing more aggressive.  In the closing paragraph you will see that I say ‘Someone has lied’.  This was intentionally or otherwise, but it remains a lie.  Much as I appreciate the way you have accommodated my writing, the comment below does not seem suited to Haworthiad based on your support for Breuer and on the comments you convey to me from your readership.  I doubt if your readership would have any appreciation of the subtleties of the argument nor the revulsion I feel at this piece of work.  I am therefore contemplating a sort of private mailing list for this comment and possibly also launching it out into cyberspace as a loud thought.  I would like an early answer as I am contemplating simply giving it to the internet as my last last word.

Thank you for the WWW page.  Harry my time is very precious to me at the moment and I did write something for the special Haworthia issue of the CSSA Jl – influenced by Colin Walker’s letter.  I actually want to go and see the E. Cape complex later this year and feel really torn between my inner wish for ‘rest’ and the outer wish to ‘know’.  Time is wasted on endless refutation and takes me right away from wanting to write anything new.  Did you get my notes on Resende, Uitewaal and Smith – 30th June? :-


“re Borgman and Breuer – Haworthiad 12.3:79, July 1998.

Being rather pressed for time I looked briefly at the Borgman/Breuer article and then had to look again because two words leapt out at me from nowhere.  The article does not say anything new but I was then peripherally struck by what appeared to be some absurdities and inaccuracies.  So without further ado my general impression was that we have here an apparently reasonable article, but which might not bear critical examination.  I really thought as I progressed, and my search was not remotely complete, things would have got better.  This is the hope I expressed in the same issue of Haworthiad p115.  My hopes date back to 1986 to an article of mine which Borgmann and Breuer must have chosen to not even cite,  and my hopes are thoroughly dashed.

1. Page 84, left column Para. 2.  It reads of H. herbacea  “He (Bayer) suggested 1976 “..that the type variety is that found in the Richtersveld and dryer areas southwards to the eastern little karoo.”  Now this does not sound to me like my language style at all, and besides that geographic mis-statement is not the kind of error I might often make either (not to say I do not make errors).  So looking in my 1976 Handbook I find that I use the less formal and less suggestive word ‘typical’, but then I also find that they have confused the species, and my reference is to H. arachnoidea and not to herbacea.  The words which hit me were ‘Bayer’ and ‘type’, but could have been Richtersveld and Herbacea.  My reaction is now to say ‘Damn, there are many citations and a long literature list.  Have I got to check them all?’.  Considerably worse is to come.

2.  Another point is for p86, para 2, where they say of Scott vs Bayer obviously to also cover the preceding paragraph “These opposing interpretations were made possible by the fact..”.  The presumptive ‘obvious’ has to be considered wrong because of the ‘facts’ which are then presented, and this gives me the creeps.  This is very poor writing and underlies much Haworthia literature.  This is why I have said elsewhere that it surely matters but little how you bow and scrape at the altar of the nomenclatural code if you cannot put together a lucid account. Regarding that specific preceding paragraph.  Bayer does provide herbarium specimen support for what he has said and for his comment on flowering times this is not essential.  It is Scott who makes the statements about evident hybridization for which there is no support of any kind.  The statement  ‘no preserved specimens which could yield field references are known to exist in any herbarium’ (a sentence which in itself is perhaps as prolix as it is tautological) could thus be a puzzle to some.  It is anyway a repetitious statement from the literature and its sources could be cited.  If these authors were irritated by Scott they will have some idea of the irritation they cause me.  Their use of the emotive ‘irritating’ in the context of their own inexperience and mistakes, I find downright disrespectful.  At their level I would suggest that ‘dismay’ would have been a slightly better choice.  But as I continue to explain, the reader may find even that too strong.  Who said ‘those who are not properly familiar with the past, are condemned to repeat its mistakes.

3. On page 80, they say of taxonomy “the objective of taxonomy is to establish relationships between different populations (not names)”.  What this sentence is really supposed to convey is nothing but its trite irrelevance.  There is no elaboration and seems somehow to refer to the introduction.  Typification of names is itself is by specimens and not by populations.  The objective of taxonomy is the classification of organisms into groups based on similarities of structure origin etc. (Collin’s Dictionary).  Whether this is at population level or not surely depends at what level one works.  The word they should have used instead of ‘populations’ is ‘organisms’.  Names are used to express this relationships and this is fundamental to the binomial system where two names are the basic unit of classification.  Their’s is also probably not a very true statement in respect of the object of their paper, because most taxonomy has been done with respect to herbarium specimens and thus necessarily in disregard of ‘populations’.  The word ‘populations’ must appear in the title to keep up appearances.  If they are serious about this word then they would recognise fully (just partially is unfortunately already a lot to hope for) the limitations of European based botanists trying to understand the complexities of the Cape Flora.  Perhaps they can be forgiven because even in South Africa our Pretoria based botanists have some difficulty with the same problem.  I also have a problem with the title.  If it had simply read.. “An overview of the supposed enigma.. “, it would have made the article far more acceptable certainly to all that had preceded it.  The preliminary remarks would be more in keeping with such a title although I find the paternalistic tone as deterring as the mis-directedness of the comment.  In these opening remarks they say they have quoted some of the relevant literature and then mention ‘the bibliography’.  Is the ‘bibliography’ mentioned here the literature at the tail end?  Also they frequently cite those listed publications mostly with no quotation.  They have also not cited nor quoted (nor apparently read or understood or observed the content) of all of it – see below.

4. Also on P80 is..  “It is safe to attribute them (sources of the Commelin and Boerhaave plants) to plant populations in the Robertson Karoo, as these areas were associated with the development of the early Cape Colony”.  This is not a safe and sensible assumption at all for that time period.  I pointed this out somewhere in relation to Aloe microstigma and Aloe humilis.  It is a wild statement for anyone not familiar with our geography.  One of my ‘hints’ to Breuer before was that he should properly acknowledge his sources, and I can point out the probable source in this particular case.  The Worcester/Robertson Karoo was somewhat inaccessible to the early travellers and the road connection between Cape Town and Worcester via Du Toits Kloof was only established in 1948.

5. On page 81 these is another bit of trivia.  Quote.. “these circumscriptions are at variance with the treatment of plant populations.. “.  How would they know?  Not only is the statement untrue of what Bayer or Scott did, but also in terms of their own knowledge and experience.  They say “.. Scott includes some populations and Bayer excludes them”.  Neither Scott’s work nor mine (which had no pretensions) cited specimens more than superficially nor dealt with the species as cited populations.  Some of the incongruence of Scott’s cited specimens could have been elucidated if the authors could have even guess say, where Peddie or Sheldon were in relation to this discussion.  Again it is extremely difficult to juxtapose what Scott said and what Bayer said because of the extremes at which these two authors worked.  They had totally different intellectual and experiential backgrounds, and they were not both in the scientific arena.  If Borgman and Breuer had somehow acknowledged that, it would have been helpful.  There is a chunk of history here missing from their learning and they would benefit considerably from proper research and cognition in this connection.

6. On page 87 there is the claim that lack of typification.. “has contributed to sometimes futile discussion”.  Futile discussion means something discussed to no purpose, and can be made so by poor reception and poor cognition as much as by poor emission.  These two authors have effectively made it so.  Typification was not in accord with the specifics of the code, but it does not take much intelligence to find, in the synonymy and works of most writers (including both Bayer and Scott), exactly on what their interpretations were based.  Therefore I see the claim as a poor reflection on the authors and doubt if they can be any more specific if they tried.  If they think typification lies at the root of the enigma then I should be driving a bus.  What I said to Breuer, and which is true, is that in this particular case of herbacea and arachnoidea, there was no doubt about how either Scott or Bayer ‘typified’ their concepts.  To say that acceptance of the synonymy of setata with arachnoidea would be clarified by the typification of the name is just semantic.  It is true to say that if readers had properly consulted either the original works of Bayer and Scott there would not have been a problem in the first place.  It could be really problematic if the Cogmanskloof population (a specimen from here is cited by them as the type and it would have been wiser for them to have added that Breuer had visited the population during his visit to SA to have provided at least some authority for the odd references to ‘populations’) is shown to have closer affinity with mucronata at say Baden, than with arachnoidea (typified by a specimen from Langvlei).  As it is for the name setata, on P87 they say of the examination of the specimens.. “because of its correspondence with the Kew illustration…is designated…as the neotype”.  This is subtle perversion of the truth too.  Implicit is that the illustration is good enough to serve as the type.  Why do they not say (and after all they pretend to be dealing with populations) why all the other candidates were excluded?  What I find really offensive is the suggestion that in this brief visit to the Compton Herbarium and the comparison of the dry specimens (populations?), there is any improvement at all on the very unambiguous way in which Scott made his interpretation clear.  What the authors have done is tantamount to pinning the tail on the donkey.  They could have made this wild guess without leaving the comfort of home – which is perhaps one of the reasons why the code and juristics is so popular.  They have no reason for their choice other than that one is somehow needed to meet the needs of the code.  The code can be used to justify this pervertedness, but what else does?  The code is just dragged into disrepute.  Hopefully they will one day acknowledge a more meaningful epitype.

7. On page 79.  It would have been nice to have seen.. “his refusal of any phylogenetic approach” to have been clearer about whose refusal it was.  To say Scott and Bayer’s systems were in..”some respects different” is an abysmally weak assessment.  One work had a clear and precise species concept, and the other none.  On this basis alone there is therefore no basis for comparison.  They write as if assuming we both thought the Aspho Delay Sea was a geological feature on the flat dark side of the moon.  I see their vision of Haworthia as a mighty prominence in such a fantasy.  Their overall insight into the situation is weak despite all the literature available and not because of it.  It shows a very poor understanding of it.  Words like “phylogenetic” and “modern genus concept” may sound impressive if either of the authors could make or had made any original contribution to an understanding of either in relation to Haworthia.  I did not use a phylogenetic approach either and I will argue with anyone who said that before this moment there is some tool by the use of which we can sensibly talk about the phylogeny of the Aloid genera.  Two failed-attempts are available.  What these two authors have actually done is to take the word ‘phylogenetic’ as Scott used it.  In their poor insight to which I have already referred, they have not grasped the inappropriate way in which Scott used the word.  It has always been a mystery to me why all the readers and reviewers I am aware of have missed the extraordinary nature of the passage in Scott’s book where he used it.  Scott was in fact simply referring to the fact that he was not recognising my use of floral characters to recognise subgenera.  The word ‘phylogenetic’ did not appear in my two articles (1971, 1982) cited by Scott.  I did use characters to arrive at what I thought was the most probable and natural relationship of the species.  But ‘phylogeny’ implies the sequence of events of an evolutionary process.  Thus they deride Scott without much notion of why.  They have benefits which Scott did not.

8. P80.  Is CBS really Caput Bonae Spei?  I thought it was Cap Bonae Spei.  Perhaps they want to confirm that this is really the end (caput) of all hope.

9. P82.  Is it not Mackrill instead of Mackville.

10. P87.  It is really comforting to read that Bayer’s point of view was followed because it.. “also contributed to nomenclatural stability”.  By this time they must have forgotten the purport of the code and their sanctimonious intent to follow it.  The.. “variety of reasons” I suppose means the authors knew none of them?  It just shows that the code can be used to mischievously disturb stability as much as it can be to maintain it.  There are surely now clauses in the code to ensure this stability in agricultural and horticultural crops which cannot carry the strain of more than one person who has this ‘juristic’ mania.  These clauses should now be available for a genus like Haworthia which is really in that class too.

Why I did not do typification in my earlier works perhaps now needs to be explained.  I was not in a position to see types.  It was uncertain if types were available in Britain or Sweden.  Even Berlin as it has transpired was not able to inform me adequately of their holding (and I am very confident that there never were specimens as such.  I had no authority to justify my position and the Code was a high point of discussion and changes were pending.  Furthermore I do not have a ‘juristic’ mind and patience with that kind of process.  It was evident even then that typification was the starting blocks and gun for the FUN RUN NAMES GAME derided before, and even in, the early Haworthiads.  Many of these thoughts are expressed in the undigested literature cited by Borgman and Breuer, but best expressed in the uncited and very relevant paper by myself ‘Haworthia and Nomenclatural Confusion’ (British Cactus and Succulent Journal 4:8, 1986).  Rowley and Tjaden are also ignored and smeared over by this.. “variety of reasons”.  It may be fair to expand the phrase.. “Those that can do, those that cannot teach, and the rest (a small population) indulge in nomenclatural scavenging under the auspices of the ICBN”.


I think it is fortunate for the authors that there are just not many readers available and with credentials to properly review their work.  I had so expected it of Colin Walker and hence the disappointment expressed in a way which insulted and offended him rather than arousing his latent skills.  The article does not justify the time required to do so.  The reward is minimal as the mountain really labours to bring forth a non-existent mouse.  My point long ago was that Bayer and Scott’s different interpretations only remained unclear because readers did not have the capacity to discriminate adequately in the first place.  To say p79  “Bayer and Scott’s different interpretations have remained unclear to now”, is a total corruption even if they maintain typification as the root cause.  As is shown later, there is not even that mitigating factor.  If true I think it would have been an appallingly dismal reflection on the entire communication process.  Their explanation is nothing more than an excuse for an equally dismal display of intellectualism.  This article is only a very laboured and tortuous way of explaining the very obvious, repeating what has already been said, and pedantically dragging in the nomenclatural code, as well as some untruths, to justify it all.  Just one of my concerns is, when typification is done by people who really do not know the genus, its literature and its tradition as well as they pretend they do; will they know the implications of any choice of types that they may make?  This is the main reason why my original works were not claimed to be ‘revisions’ and why I avoided typification.  It may not be that important at all, but it is worth noting that the species arachnoidea and the species mucronata as recognised in my new Handbook, interact with each other very severely.  This interaction is also in the Tradouw Pass and in Cogmanskloof.  It would have been far more rational, sensible and reasonable in my opinion to have simply typified setata on the chronologically nearest and probably truest evidence and resemblance as Scott indicated (It is obvious that I used the Salm Dyck ‘setosa’, while Scott used a contemporary illustration in the Kew library) rather than dream up a connection to origin, making pretentious statements about geography, and the Code and whatever.  Dr A. Cronquist circa 1988 at an International Symposium on the Code presented a paper entitled “Do we know what we are doing?”.  I suggest a strong statement to the effect that if that college of professionals are asked this question, it would be very wise for us ordinary mortals (including Borgman and Breuer) to give the code a very wide berth or at least treat it with considerably more circumspection and respect.  The code has its purpose as a series of recommendations, and I do not dispute its value at all.  But there are many other considerations and one can easily observe the intent without the intellectual gymnastics.  I doubt if the fathers of the Code intended it to be used by foundlings as a sledgehammer to ponderously crack and uncook an already poached egg.  I am quite sure in my respect for some really great minds who I know fashioned the code and need to use it, that the word ‘authoritative’ would somewhere be implicit.  For any nincompoop to come along and fiddle with nomenclature just because some clause or other seems to obligate it, is just irrational.  One can easily accommodate an alternate opinion without seriously affecting names in current and popular usage and Borgman and Breuer admit that. [1]


    [1] – Actually I made an amazing discovery on my recent trip to the USA.  It would probably have remained a secret for all time if it was not for me.  Apparently while Cronquist and all his buddies were one day cruising around Staten Island.  A helicopter came churning out with a message from President Kennedy.  It was dated one day before his assassination and it had been lost in the post.  Apparently it had gone to a little old lady in Sacramento who, being a good Democrat, had been using it to prop up one leg of her kitchen table.  The reason for this was some little movement of the San Andreas fault.  The message was ‘Hey! listen you guys.  There is tons of paper pouring into USA from the rain forests of Brazil and there are thirty thousand indigent aspirant botanists in Europe.  Can’t you put some act together, and see what can be done to improve the value of the dollar’.  In Dallas I learned personally from the lips of his orphaned son, that Oswald Lee was the sole and only member of a secret organization HEMP (acronym for Haworthia enigmas must prevail), funded surreptitiously by the CIA.  This really opened my eyes to the secrets of the Code.  It surely fulfils the prophesy of Nostradamus who said a message would be revealed towards the end of the second millennium which would re-direct mankind.)

They acknowledge my ‘useful hints’ but I regret that I find those very largely ignored as have been some other more important communication points.  My ‘hints’ were prompted, by among other things, a weak manuscript by the second author on the same topic.  That manuscript essentially confounded typification with application and manufactured an enigma where none actually existed.  Their article now still overstates the case of the phantom enigma.