Mystery – part 18, Recap

2019.7.13 – Another re-cap. Species are supposed to be primary discrete life forms both in biology and in metaphysics. The definition should be the same. But it does not seem to bother botanists that they do not have a rigorous strong definition or more often, any definition at all. It does exist for zoology. Also for metaphysics but who knows what that is, or bothers to ask? There are some scientists that dispute the existence of “species” but they are probably also not taxonomists. But leaving that aside. If we are going to insist on Latin binomials, we really do need to be sure where the things we name, stop and start. You would think in the case of groenewaldii that the boundaries of mirabilis, emelyae, pygmaea, mutica and retusa (and even floribunda) were known to its author(s) and protagonists, and defined with some sense of certainty. Not so! So from Buffeljags I will jump to Area 1 of the given map and demonstrate the problem with H. mutica starting with just one locality in the south west (MBB7937). It is only problematic because the plants are associated there with white quartz in different stages of decay. This white quartz occurs in lenses up to 1m thick but also in thin strata. The erosion rate is slower than the shale that it is embedded in, and the plant associations are related to such differences. But this white quartz is not a requisite for the presence of H. mutica that also never shares habitat with H. mirabilis. I have about 40 pictures so see if you come out with also an unerring idea of what constitutes H. mutica as you now can with H. groenewaldii. This is so that you can be comfortable with names as binomials that makes sense, while there are also so many other populations that the narrative may extend to.

54. 2019.7.14 – It is quite easy to fool yourself into thinking it’s easy and that this lot is distinctive. But remember it is a quite new habitat and thus different growing circumstances. Many of these plants could be taken and deposited in populations across the Southern Cape without much chance of being recognised as misfits. Paradoxically, mutica is possibly one of the most homogeneous of the groups I still recognise as “species”, but the warning is that this may not be true. I have often commented on my early amazement to find a plant of H. mutica from Bredasdorp identical to one of H. pygmaea from Mossel Bay, in every respect apart from a slight colour difference in the bracts. Notices how the leaf tips of the first 8 leaves of the plant in the 6th picture, vary – pointed vs. rounded?

Lawrence Loucka : mutica means ‘without a point.’ If pointed, then can it be Mutica?

Bruce Bayer :) Of course – but this is a bit of the typological approach.that bedevils classification. You have been in the field and experienced how we grasp at straws to explain why we think we are looking at magnifica or maraisii or atrofusca or something from some other population while we are unable to come to grips with the totality of the single population we are in. The raw and inexperienced jump straight to “new species”! Looking for differences rather than similarities?

55. 2019.7.15 – I am curious to know what people are thinking … “Hey these are nothing like Buffeljags?” If so you join the club of a majority thoroughly fooled? If anything confirms the fact that geology and substrate chemistry are major role players, this is probably it. Where Buffeljags is essentially alluvium and a depositional surface, this white quartz is the rawest remnant of an erosional surface. What you will still see is that what is as a rule a non-proliferating plant, also coming out as highly off-setting (pupping). Could be this is related to the propensity of cliff hangers to pup furiously, on an erosional surface?

I note for the first time that there may be pattern in the sequence of truly leaf-without a point, and and successive leaves being less so?

Also notice on the 6th photo that this plant has comptoniana-like reticulate venation.

56. 2019.7.16 – I do not think I can get away from the need to note this aberration. About 10 years ago there was a great meeting of Aloe experts (about 30 of them) to discuss Aloe taxonomy. A protocol was drawn up to spell out the requirements for description of new species. No mention whatsoever of just what a species might be. Just what were they so anxious to see described in some proper fashion? Not surprisingly, a few years later a description of Aloe Barbara-Jeppeae [1] was published. Aloe is not like Haworthia in that individual plants of a species are near identical and there is by contrast and general rule, very little in separating them on that score. So to have this new species described based on the flimsiest of criteria when the literature was already suggesting that Aloe vryheidensis and A.dolomitica were possibly the same except for the issue of geographical distance, was surprising to say the least. No tribute to a great artist and personality either. I am grateful these experts stayed out of Haworthia. Or did they really and this is this just a demonstration of the deeper problems of classification? What is this proliferation where H. mutica is by rule a loner?

[1] Tom A. Mccoy and John J. Lavranos “Aloe barbara-jeppeae TA McCoy & Lavranos; a long-overdue tribute,” Cactus and Succulent Journal 85(4), 154-159, (8 July 2013).

57. 2019.7.17 – It is interesting in that almost the entire quartz lens is just lying fragmented on the soil surface, which is weathered shale. (Elsewhere in the greater area, these quart patches are/were treated with disdain and some farmers go to great lengths to cultivate through or over them). There are almost two habitat conditions viz large lumps of newly fragmented quartz, and smaller older fragments between and round about. The proliferating plants were in or among the largest fragments. A few hundred meters away there is a second population where the habitat seems to have formed from a decomposing weathered this quartz layer with much clay. The soil is perhaps saprolitic i.e. there has been chemical weathering absent from the first site. The plants are not much different but how would one measure and tabulate “difference”. I add two isolated plants photographed about 1.5km east in a most unexpected habitat.