Mystery – part 34, Watsonia too

I struggle to really get my mind around principles and practices that get so shrouded in a language of their own. This cognitive dissonance business is a case in point. A person adjusts their belief system according to what they are psychologically more comfortable with and can easily depart from the truth in the process? I cannot believe that Haworthia is unique in the problems we experience in trying to arrive at answers. The only difference in the extent or degree in which we are able to collect together and directly experience for ourselves the vast diversity they present. By working in a botanic garden I was just unfortunate enough to have had this experience with many different families and genera. It is not a unique experience and others have had the same opportunities. Why has not each of us who have had this kind of experience come to an agreement about the difficulties of classification? Cognitive dissonance? Perhaps it does not suit the needs and realities of our daily lives and how we relate to others who without that experience, but with greater intellect and authority, know considerable more and tell a different story. This happens against a vast background of history. Why I say this is because I am presently trying to find names for a very rich local flora. So Watsonia is a case in point. There is a Revision by a very distinguished botanist but it is only with cognitive dissonance that I can believe this revision will give me the tools to correctly identify the 4-6 species that occur here. But it is not only Watsonia that I struggle with. I can probably very conservatively list about 50 or more others as examples that mirror the same issues that the H. retusa affiliates do. But it is almost impossible to even mention these difficulties with the myriad of amateur enthusiasts and even botanists who engage at all with plant identification and are convinced the authority exists in the books and people they consult with.

Us so-called Haworthia experts need to have a good look at the Watsonia monograph for purposes of a reality check. I have every admiration and respect for a remarkably able, competent and leading taxonomist. But if the argument and data put forward for the support of many of his taxonomic decisions are anything to go by, the classification of Watsonia is a disaster area (at least for the winter rainfall area) that no amateur (me included) dares venture into. It is totally dependent on a cognitive dissonance that the author must know what he did because no one else could, without a very comprehensive study of all the herbarium material allied with several (multiple) seasons spent in the field making own observations.

Dr Peter Goldblatt, The genus Watsonia. Annals of the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, Vol 19, 1989 ISBN 0 620 12517 9

Read critically W. borbonica and W. rodgersii. See dubia and strictiflora. For the SW Cape species it is just an endless list of problems riddled with subjective statement like “clearly” and “I prefer”. There is also the reference to “hybrid swarms”. Just as in Haworthia, the term seems to have been used to obscure what the variation obscures. Simply put, hybridization flaunts the reliance on a zoological species definition. The existence of hybrids is blamed for the inability to provide a “useful” key! Look at dubia and strictifolia, and then amabilis. Humilis and laccata? Then try to sort out meriana and all its possible affiliations and in turn the affiliations of its affiliates. Look at the distributions and correspondences. In effect the author says “Trust me” confident that no one will ever be able to track through all those specimens and all that field work again. When time and change will also have decimated more of the evidence. At the same time I doubt if anyone except another polymath, will ever be able to track the types, their names, and the nomenclature as competently or in the same way. It is a tribute to Peter Goldblatt that this makes for such an interesting adventure. You could derive a lot of pleasure and genuine knowledge in the process.

Why Watsonia? Well – why not Oxalis, or Asparagus, or Conophytum, or Ceropegia, or Drosanthemum, or Crassula, or so many other genera I have been confronted with…

I find it rather difficult to deal with some of the complaints I have heard about my preoccupation with “species”, but there is truly a problem that needs to be addressed. Science seems to have been reduced to a social construct that all knowledge is confined to the material creation. Within this there is a species concept that is also just a construct. This is that living organisms can be sorted into discrete gene pools called species, and currently that these are identifiable by DNA sequencing. Also concurrent is that it does not work adequately and that a new next generation sequencing will iron out the problems. Funny all this, because evolutionary theory is that this has all come about by random mutation and selection. There is some doubt about this and the concept (upon concept) of “intelligent design” suggests that if this was true, the vast majority of organisms would either be trying to get into such groups or trying to get out. So there is also a concept that there are no such things as species? How does poor average citizen deal with this? By referring to Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” of course? Because we have heard of names like Adam, Moses, Noah, Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Cleopatra, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Freud, Kinsey, Harvey Weinstein, Piglet, Pluto, Bacon, Newton, Einstein, Marilyn Munroe, Watson, Crick, James Thurber, Walter Mitty, Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Aldous Huxley, Noel Coward, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and more; we believe all the wisdom enshrined in these multitudinous characters is embedded in our own individual consciousness. So we entertain ourselves by arguing amongst us about everything and anything on the basis of a great common wisdom or that of entirely our own, which in reality is grossly deficient. By limiting our science to physical creation and this misguided social construct, we miss the reality that it also tells us that physical creation it is possibly just an illusion of time and space, and that true science expands to a far greater reality. This is in the metaphysical realm that is just another ridiculous social construct depicted as unavailable, out of reach and out of bounds. Is it then satanic and spirituality just a myth? Among many other things, the existence of metaphysical realms suggests that physical creation is a small part of a greater illusion and that there is an ultimate reality. It suggests that there are discrete life forms in creation and that therefore it is worth arguing about what they are, until such time as we recognise their significance as conscious entities that serve a purpose. I can’t wait.

November 3, 2019 – Lawrence asked for Watsonia pictures. This is a smallish red-flowered plant from an unusual remnant of vegetation here in Fisherhaven. It is a truly fascinating problem examining the issue of how do we know that what we know is true. It is an absolute act if faith to imagine that being presented with a monograph that you will consequently be able to identify the species it deals with – and no offence whatever to the author.