Enigma 4. The Haworthioid rocks of the Aspho Della Sea

Obviously I have struggled a bit to make up this presentation.  Some of the struggle has produced some interesting ideas for which evidence is available separately.

The problem arises around the fact that I have two things to talk about.  The one is what I have the perceived authority to talk about – viz.

1.) Species definition as it is arrived at from my experience with Haworthia and biological systems in general, which has implications for Asphodelaceae and Aloideae.  This is what I see as the organisers requirement from me and hence I feel they give me credibility.

2.) Nomenclature and taxonomy as it has affected me and hence the classification required for 1 above.  Which is what I also have the apparent authority for, but not the perceived credibility. (It is generally stated that there is confusion regarding the nomenclature and classification of Haworthia).

Given credibility for the 1st and not the 2nd is like giving a man a Rolls-Royce while he is in prison and not free to drive around.  I cannot construct for you a castle on a foundation of sand as you expect, but I can construct for you a foundation on which any one can build a structure in any medium.

I had no intention of attending this congress because I do not feel I have both the real authority and credibility to talk about anything.  However,I am here by invitation and am very very appreciative of this validation that I have a contribution to make, even if I do not necessarily think that I deserve it.  In another sense I also feel that I have now responsibility, but no authority and no credibility. The problem is the unperceived one that the credibility to talk only extends to the first item and not to the second.  My struggle – and it has been a most violent and painful struggle – is to reconcile these two issues in my mind and ask myself why all this anger and resentment at what I feel is the lack of credibility for my classification.  If Dr Beth Gibbs-Russel telephoned me as she did, and asked whose classification should NBI accept, mine or Scott’s, it suggests to me that she had confidence in me but did not have any measure of the classification.  It is as if I have some credibility but my classification does not and that is not good enough.

My complaint is this:- you are expecting me as a practising scientist to be able to produce results which have a predictive value.  The rhetorical question is.. “Do you expect a scientific hypothesis to have predictive value?”  If you say “No”, then the door may be the way to go.

BUT at the same time you as a total community tell me that as a taxonomist, my work is an art form that must predict exactly what some unknown artist will produce in the future. This is the major and real problem that I now address.

Myron Kimnach, Editor of the Cactus and Succulent J.(US) presents me an example of some evidence I require to exemplify my problem.  On Feb.7th 1998, he addressed a letter to me.

“Of course I (and the readers) would be very appreciative if you could contribute a significant work to this issue (A special issue on Haworthia), as you are widely recognised as the main authority on this genus”.

In a letter May 10 1998 he wrote in reference to a comment on a manuscript I had advised him to be careful with and critical of..

“Of course all of this is a matter of opinion as it is hard for an editor to make a decision when the specialists disagree”.

In other words there is the implication that there are several authorities.  This manuscript which I reservedly commented on, and which I would have dropped in the waste basket without any qualms, was an opinion equal in his eyes to anything any of these authorities might say.  In other words he has demonstrated that he does not respect my opinion to the extent that he could adopt it as his own against any other.  He has every right to hold that opinion, but it invalidates me as the personality.  He is agreeing that I have the authority but he withholds at the same time the validation and the credibility I need, to produce anything.  Fortunately he did observe my advice and did reject the article after examining it the way I had asked him to do.

When and if you see the article which I wrote and which is published in the CSSJ (US) you will see that it is my letter of resignation.  It says ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’.

How this arose is from a review by Dr Colin Walker of an article in Taxon typifying formally in terms of the ICBN, all Haworthia names.  He did not, in my opinion say anything more than that it was now published.  I said.. “Nonsense, he was overlooking very important issues by not reviewing the article critically” – and stated that there would be problems arising from his favourable comment.  Walker’s reaction was understandable but it does not change the accuracy of my comment. My statement has indeed proved to be true.  The problem that has arisen is from a claim that was highlighted in a manuscript by Borgmann and Breuer, and now published in Haworthiad 12.79(1998).  This negates an opinion which I had held for 13 years which said in effect that Scott had created a major source of confusion over the whole front of Haworthia classification.  So again I am invalidated, although neither of the opinions are based on the truth.  Borgmann and Breuer said there was a confusion in the minds of the readership because of typification.  In 1986 I had pointed out this there was not a problem of typification, but there was a problem of application.  I had done so in two other publications, and in at least three published letters.  In ascribing the problem in the unpublished manuscript to typification, the authors were saying that:-

Listen carefully:- “Do you see Col. Scott, this one single plant chosen by us from a population at Worcester, this is the one we take to typify herbacea.  You should have known this and the mistake you have made is to not have anticipated this and taken a plant from a population of the species you call arachnoidea and called it herbacea“.  The problem is he was busy typifying the name arachnoidea and the plant he was taking was not from that which Borgmann and Breuer saw as arachnoidea.  He did not do what he should strictly have done in terms of the new code or perhaps any code for that matter, but there is no doubt from his book (and two other publications regarding the specific problem) that this is precisely what he did.  He typified correctly but he used the name for what both Bayer and Borgmann & Breuer identify as herbacea.  There is no doubt about this and hence there could never have been an enigma.  Should Scott have prophesied that they were going to select a type for herbacea which would effectively mean that his application of the name arachnoidea became synonymous with their herbacea?.  Scott did also typify herbacea effectively, and the only difference is that he did not do it the way the code now apparently demands.  He also made it synonymous with his concept of H. arachnoidea.  There is no doubt about that either.  That this has produced an enigma is not a very subtle point, but unless it is understood, you will never understand why Larry Leach has been wronged and maligned as a man who wasted many years of his life in fruitless argument.  This is also why I feel like an intellectual pariah despite the credibility you give me.

Lets look at a diagram if you doubt what I say:-

After analysing Borgmann and Breuer, I had really begun to doubt my sanity and I tried a diagram as follows where for each author a source (the type T) is linked to a name (N) which the author accepts and then how the author applies that name (A) in the sense of Bayer 1976, 1982.  There are two actual species and three names


This is what one gets:-

Scott                                Bayer                       Borg/Breuer
T  Kew plate Mackrill        Salm D                     Mackrill/Cogmanskloof
N  Setata                          Setata                      Setata
A  Arachnoidea                Arachnoidea             Arachnoidea

T   Commelin fig. T27      T27                           T27
N  Arachnoidea                Arachnoidea             Arachnoidea
A  Herbacea                     Arachnoidea             Arachnoidea

T  Boerhaave fig. T131    T131                         T131
N  Herbacea                     Herbacea                  Herbacea
A  Herbacea                     Herbacea                  Herbacea


The table in another way can be written:-

.                                                            Scott  Bayer  Borg/Breuer
Type 1 of Mackrill – setata (1)                   1         1            1
T  2 of Commelin – arachnoidea (1)          2         1            1
T  3 of Boerhaave – herbacea (2)             2         2            2


Now I quote from a letter I wrote (July, 1997) to the authors when I saw this manuscript..

“1. There never was an enigma about arachnoidea and herbacea.

2. This confirms that the confusion has absolutely nothing to do with typification at all, but it was a case of mistaken application of the name by Scott.”

Unfortunately I made a mistake.  Scott had done everything he had needed to do.  In terms of his typification he had done everything correctly and his application of the names in terms of his typification is correct.  His typification agrees in every respect with mine and with Borgmann and Breuer’s.  The mistake he made was not to cite my application of the name herbacea in the synonymy of his concept of the name arachnoidea or of the name herbacea.  This is the only source of the confusion and it is so obvious that I do not see anything puzzling or ambiguous about it – even considering this small ommission in respect of synonymy.  They should have seen this in a paper of mine (BCSJ, 1986) referred to below.

Perhaps the problem is better understood if you say it this way:-

If Scott had taken  Borgmann and Breuer’s additional type which they cite to confirm their typification of herbacea and their agreement with Bayer, Scott would have applied the name herbacea in the same way.  This is not true.  Scott did what he did, he would have called it arachnoidea and he had no way of knowing outside of divine or satanic inspiration, what Borgmann and Breuer were going to do 13 years later.

There are still some very curious things which contribute to my discomfort.  What they have done is taken this specific consideration, obfuscated it and presented it again in regard to a different single species.  In doing so, they have generated 5 more errors of the same order, two of a different order, in a new unseen manuscript.  This leaves me me even further invalidated in respect of my statement about typification and confusion.

1.   This article in Haworthiad credits the lectotypification of the name arachnoidea by Scott, but nowhere formally states that his application of the name is synonymous with herbacea.

2.   Elsewhere in the article they say that his choice of a representative specimen of arachnoidea, the type in the sense of his application, was of an herbarium specimen from north-west of Laingsburg.  If one knows and examines Scott’s revision, you will know that the significance of this statement is that Borgmann and Breuer are compounding the problem.  This is because the representative specimen is Scott’s effective type for his concept of H. translucens.

3.   This previous point is incidentally a wholly different aspect of the confusion which surrounds the entire classification of the genus because of the differences between Scott and Bayer.  In each case there is absolutely no room for doubt in the sense of their typifications as each of them have nominated representative or selected specimens (which was on the advice of recognised and experienced taxonomists).  There is no problem if this leads to name changes, unless authors are repeating or making the kind of mistakes that Borgmann and Breuer do ie. choosing new neotypes and epitypes, which suggest that Bayer or Scott should have guessed what they were going to do; or in not recognising the obvious connection between the typifications they (Borgmann and Breuer) were doing, and the applications of Scott and Bayer.

4.   They further say that the choice they now make of an epitype (a neotype) for the name setata now justifies their whole exercise and contributes to the solution of the phantom enigma.  They do this in a slightly different way from the way they do it with Scott’s typification of arachnoidea.  But only fortuitously as the specimen they choose as the neotype of H. setata is also one which Scott would have called setata if he had to identify the plant they chose.  This the authors do not know.

5.   In an extensive bibliography, the authors fail to cite the single most significant publication that highlighted all these problems which they are now trying to resolve.  This article is one by myself in the British Cactus and Succ. J. (4:8,1986) and its title “Haworthia and nomenclatural confusion”.  In it I say among other things and on feeling myself being blamed by Will Tjaden (BCSJ 3.88,1985) for playing the name game “It would have been difficult for me in 1976 to predict what interpretation Scott would adopt in 1985, and Tjaden may place the blame for confusion where he wishes.

6.  My penultimate point is that there are a number of additional minor and major errors that contribute to the the sense that these authors do not actually have the overall grasp of the subject and the implications of what they are doing.  They do not in fact have the knowledge and experience of the genus and its elements, nor of the geography of the country to make the kind of observations they have and do want to make.

7.  The article suggests that it has been seen by me and might meet with my approval.  If they had seen and observed my 1986 article they would not have needed any hints from me personally.

In its essence, what Myron Kimnach said to me is not a problem.  What is the problem is that classification is suggested to be a matter of opinion – and if we accept it like that, it means that we can never have any structure on which we base the rest of our information about biological systems.

It is this incredible irony that here we have science which requires us to produce work with predictive value, in the same breath condones the practise of witchcraft to achieve that goal?.