Natural Variation and Species Delimitation in Haworthia Duval. – Part 4. HAWORTHIA EMELYAE von Poelln. and a new variety. (1979)

Printed in National Cactus and Succulent Journal, 34:28 (1979).
Part 4: HAWORTHIA EMELYAE von Poelln. and a new variety.
M. B. Bayer, National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, Karoo Gardens, Worcester.

The retention of the name H. emelyae v. Poelln. over H. picta v. Poelln. and H. correcta v. Poelln. is discussed.  There is also a discussion of the relationship of H. emelyae to H. comptoniana Smith. to H. springbokvlakensis Scott and to H. magnifica var. major (Smith) Bayer.  A new variety, H. emelyae var. multifolia is described.

Haworthia emelyae was described by von Poellnitz in 1937 and named in honour of Mrs Emely Ferguson whom von Poellnitz presumed to have been the collector.  Von Poellnitz related his new species to H. willowmorensis v. Poelln., to H. ryderiana v. Poelin. and to H. whitesloaneana V. Poelln..  None of these names is currently upheld (see Haworthia Handbook. Bayer, 1976) and it would be extremely difficult to form a picture of H. emelyae from any vision conjured up from the little tangible evidence associated with them.  Similarly the variety H. emelyae var. beukmannii v. Poelln. is known to be a variant of H. mirabilis Haw. (see Bayer, Excelsa 7: 37, 1977) and offers no solution to the problem.  There are three photographs supposedly of H. emelyae in the H. G. Fourcade photographic record of Major F. R. Long’s collection.  This record was compiled in 1940 and one would have expected less discrepancy at this distance in time than the three photographs actually project.  One photograph is of a plant sent in by a collector and recorded…”from the Gamka river, Calitzdorp”.  The plant is obviously H. turgida and comparable with the forms of that species from along the lower tributaries of the Gamka River (which actually becomes the Gouritz River after its confluence with the Olifants River in the Rooiberge to the north-east of Vanwyksdorp).  The second photograph is of a plant in the collection of W. R. van Ryneveld which is also clearly H. turgida comparable with the Lower Gouritz and Mossel Bay forms.  The third photograph is of a plant recorded as from Mrs E. Ferguson herself and this is unmistakably H. reticulata Haw.

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A Story of Haworthia Nitidula v. Poell. ( = H. mirabilis Haw.) (1980)

Previously published Cact S.Jl 52.1 1980
M. B. Bayer, Karoo Botanic Garden, National Botanic Gardens of South Africa

Haworthia nitidula was described by von Poellnitz in Desert Plant Life (11:192, 1939) from plants collected by Major H. Venter.  Venter was very generous with his localities and like most of his others, this no. 15 was also simply cited… “in the environs of Worcester, Swellendam, Caledon and Bredasdorp”.  This is an ideal example for demonstrating the problems of identification of haworthias and especially in the section Retusae Haworth.  J.R.Brown illustrated H. nitidula in the Cactus and Succulent Journal (18:89, 1946) but apart from this and the original illustration accompanying the description, the plant has not figured in the succulent literature.  In G.G.Smith’s records, the species and nine varieties are distinguished.  The interesting thing is that these varieties are drawn from three geographically separated species.  The object of this article is to present Smith’s photographs and notes of his “varieties” and discuss their actual position as they relate to distribution.

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Haworthia Revisited – 11. Haworthia emelyae

11. Haworthia emelyae V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 42:271(1937).  Bayer, Natn.Cact.Succ.J 34:28(1979).  Bayer :115(1976).  Bayer :38(1982).  Type: Cape, locality unknown, Mrs E. Ferguson in Long 322.  Not preserved.  Lectotype (B&M): icon (B):  H. blackburniae V.Poelln., Kakteenk. 9:132(1937). Nom. illegit. non Barker 1937.  H. correcta V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 43:103(1938).  Type: Cape, Calitzdorp, Mrs E. Blackburn in Triebn. 978.  Not preserved.  Neotype (designated here): CAPE-3321(Ladismith): Rooiberg, E. Vanwyksdorp(-DA), Mrs Schnettler in KG 335/71 (NBG):  H. picta idem. 44:133(1938).  V.Poelln., Desert.Pl.Life :126(1939).  Type: Cape, Moeras River, Mrs S. Blackburn in Triebn. 1062.  Not preserved.  Neotype (designated here): icon, Fourcade 72 (NBG).

emelyae: for Emely Ferguson.

Rosette to 10cm φ, seldom proliferous.  Leaves 15-20, distinctly retused, pointed, barely translucent, with scattered elongate small flecks, with obscure raised tubercles, lined, reddish-brown hued.  Inflorescence simple.  Flowers 15-20, white.

1982 – H. emelyae is a widely distributed species occurring from Uniondale through the Little Karoo to west of Ladismith.  It occurs in a variety of different geological formations and varies accordingly.  The plants have very short recurved leaves with convex end areas usually flecked with pinkish markings.  The forms east of Oudtshoorn usually have rounded end areas and are scabrid on the upper leaf faces.  Westwards the leaves become pointed and smoother.  However, there are clear signs of intergradation with H. magnifica in the Muiskraal area of Riversdale.  Doubt has been cast on the origin of Mrs Ferguson’s plants but G.G. Smith’s records clearly indicate that they came from Van Wyksdorp and that they were collected there by a Mrs Le Roux.  The var. multifolia has up to 60, more slender, suberect leaves; and was compared in the original description with H. serrata.  Other forms of H. emelyae where the few leaves are shortly recurved and round‑tipped can similarly be compared with H. magnifica var. atrofusca.  The eastern forms with the flatter, rounded leaf tips can be compared to H. bruynsii and H. springbokvlakensis.  H. emelyae is generally non‑proliferous.

1999 – The 1982 discussion is fraught with error as two species are actually involved.  The scabrid element referred to above has since been excerpted as H. bayeri and it is fairly obvious that there can be no extension to H. bruynsii which belongs in the Hexangulares.  The problem is compounded by the fact that von Poellnitz described three species all of which are synonymous, and yet may have cited H. bayeri among these.  The integration with H. magnifica was through the var. major which is now transferred to H. emelyae because of the intermediate populations mentioned above which occur just east of, and in the closer vicinity of, Muiskraal.


a. var. emelyae.
The typical variety is rather strongly flecked and the leaves are always retused to horizontal and close to ground level.  The neotype cited above is a specimen originating from near Vanwyksdorp and sent by the original collector (Mrs Le Roux) to G.G. Smith.

Distribution: 3321 (Ladismith): 20km W. Ladismith (-BD), NBG144768; Springfontein (-CC), Smith 5787 (NBG); 42km Calitzdorp to Vanwyksdorp (‑DA), Mrs Le Roux in Smith 5437 (NBG); Vanwyksdorp (-DA), Joubert (BOL);Rooiberg, E. Vanwyksdorp (-DA), Mrs Schnettler in KG 335/71 (NBG); SE. Vanwyksdorp (-DC), Bayer in KG257/77 (NBG).  3322 (Oudtshoorn): Mt Hope (-CA), Schnettler in KG582/69 (NBG); Moeras River (-CC), Smith 2447 (NBG); N. Robinson Pass (-CC), Bruyns in KG434/75 (NBG); Zebra (-CD), Smith 2905 (NBG); Erfpacht (-DD), Smith 5808, 6106 (NBG); 3323 (Willowmore): Uniondale to Avontuur (-CA), Smith 2935 (NBG).

Inadequately located: Ladismith, Pillans 858 (BOL); Oudtshoorn, Taylor (BOL).

b. var. comptoniana (Smith) Venter & Hammer
Cact.Succ.J(US) 69:77(1997).  H. comptoniana Smith, JS.Afr.Bot. 11:76(1945).  Bayer 108(1976).  Bayer :33(1982).  Scott :128(1985).  Type: CAPE-3323 (Willowmore): Georgida (-AD), M. Malherbe in Smith 3433 (NBG).

comptoniana: in honour of Prof.R.H. Compton.

1982 – The species with the flattened ends to the leaves are the most sought after, and H. comptoniana is particularly attractive.  It occurs in quartz patches and the plants are often well hidden under the stones.  The plants are bigger than in H. emelyae (the nearest relative), growing up to 120 mm in diameter in cultivation.  The growth form parallels that of H. emelyae exactly and the difference is that it is a bigger and entirely smooth species.  The leaf end area is slightly pellucid and reticulated.  Where H. emelyae is generally tinted purplish-brown, H. comptoniana is green.  Distribution and abundance is not fully known and H. comptoniana is considered very rare in the field.  It has proved very easy in cultivation and good seed is easily produced by cross-pollination.

1999 – This variety grows in very close association with H. bayeri but it is not known if other populations exist other than at the type locality.  Some forms which are pale coloured and in which there is little contrast between the reticulation and the background colour and translucence of the leaf, are very plain.  Other plants are darker coloured or with more conspicuous specks and marked reticulation, and they are are much more attractive.

Distribution: 3323 (Willowmore): Georgida (-AD), M. Malherbe in Smith 3433 (NBG), Smith 3433 (NBG), Bayer in KG114/72 (NBG).

c. var. major (Smith) Bayer comb.nov. 
H. schuldtiana var. major Smith, JS.Afr.Bot. 12:1(1946).  H. maraisii var. major (Smith) Bayer :132(1976).  H. magnifica var. major (Smith) Bayer, Natn.Cact.Succ.J 32:18(1977).  Bayer :44(1982).  Type: CAPE‑3321 (Ladismith): Garcias Pass (‑CC), Smith 5370 (NBG).

major: greater.

1982 – The var. major has an unusually large flower similar to that of H. emelyae and there is evidence of intergradation of these two taxa.

1999 – Although in this variety the leaf tubercles are armed with a spine, the general form of the plants is that of H. emelyae, and populations east of Muiskraal confirm this relationship.  The change in relationship forged here has its roots in the new collections of H. magnifica around Riversdale and in the new arrangement regarding H. maraisii.  Another consideration is the position of var. paradoxa, mentioned in 1976, and that is its relationship with H. mirabilis.  Similarly the following variety and its position need also to be considered.

Distribution: 3321 (Ladismith): Garcia’s Pass (‑CC), Smith 5370 (NBG), Garcia’s Pass (-CC), Dekenah 9 (PRE); Muiskraal (-CC), Smith 3458 (NBG), Bayer in KG118/71 (NBG); Riversdale (-CC), Muir in NBG164/25 (BOL); Sandvlakte (-CD), Bayer in KG138/72 (NBG).

d. var. multifolia Bayer
Natn.Cact.Succ.J 34:31(1979).  Bayer :39(1982).  Type: CAPE‑3321(Ladismith): Springfontein, Riversdale (‑CC), Bayer 1558 (NBG).

multifolia: many leaved.

When this variety was described it was associated and compared with H. serrata.  A new population is now known a little further to the west and collections by J. Dekenah suggest that it is possibly a little more widely represented in that general area.  The plants have many more upright leaves and the relationship with H. serrata through H. heidelbergensis, which is also now better understood, becomes real.  There is a strong suggestion that these links all also involve H. mirabilis and this is perhaps supported by von Poellnitz’ interpretation and citations of varieties of that species.

Distribution: 3321 (Ladismith): Springfontein, Riversdale (‑CC), Bayer 1558 (NBG); W. Springfontein (-CC), Smith 5769 (NBG); E. Springfontein (-CC), Smith 5768 (NBG), Smith 5389 (NBG, PRE), Bayer 1558 (NBG); Muiskraal (-CC).

Volume 6, Chapter 4:- Haworthia emelyae and some of its variants

Where are we?  Geography plays such a critical role in my perception of the species that it is important to try to understand why and how it touches on the issue.  The Langeberg Mountains is a Table Mountain Sandstone about 10km wide and 1500m high running east-west and separating the inland Little Karoo from the Lowland Renosterveld of the southern Cape.  There are five main travel routes through those mountains of which two are via river gorges viz. Cogmanskloof, Tradouw, and then there is also the Gouritz River Gorge where there is no road.  Haworthia is not generally considered a sandstone and high mountain species because, firstly, there are few records to suggest that and, secondly, because they are averse to the higher moisture levels.  However, there are many records in the low and close foothills.  H. retusa ‘turgida’ is recorded in the higher areas and in the vegetation associated with the sandstone viz. the Fynbos.  Fig. 1 is a view taken looking eastwards from Kleindoorn (Kleindoornrivier). This is about 16km east of Barrydale that sits at the northern end of the Tradouw Pass.  The next farm is Brandrivier (B) and beyond that is Springfontein.  Muiskraal is marked with an “M” and this is at the northern end of Garcia Pass from Riversdale to Ladismith.  The “O” marks Oskop which is beyond Zandkraal and about 15km beyond Muiskraal.  Another 10km will take you past Waterval and bring you to Aasvoelvallei at the confluence of the Grootriver with the Gouritz..  The last stretch is another 10km over the Cloete’s Pass to Herbertsdale from where one travels back westward 7km to Towerlands.

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Volume 6, Chapter 5:- Haworthia emelyae ‘major’ and multifolia. New populations.

1a.View from above Onverwacht North Westward to Ladismith

1b. View looking south west over Muiskraal to Garcia Pass


There used to be a regular bus service between Riversdale and Ladismith and J. Dekenah made use of this for his excursions into the Little Karoo to find plants for G.G. Smith.  He thus discovered H. emelyae ‘major’ at the northern mouth of Garcia Pass.  He also submitted a single specimen of a plant collected from the karoid veld a little further north.  It is that record that suggested to me that ‘major’  was linked to H. emelyae further east and north as well as to ‘multifolia’ to the west.  Etwin Aslander found what I regarded as the equivalent of ‘multifolia’  (see figs 2a-i) on a low plateau north of Garcia pass on the farm Muiskraal that is at the foot of the mountains north of Garcia Pass.

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Leaf sequence in Haworthia emelyae ‘comptoniana’ over a long period

Here is an interesting series of pictures showing Haworthia leaf replacement over only 16 months.  The plant is in an outdoor rockery.   Leaves are numbered from oldest to youngest.  Leaf loss has not been quite sequential as the 7th leaf outlived the 5th.  In the growth condition of September 2012 the leaves show three tiers viz. 1,4,7,10,13 / 2,5,8,11 / 3,6,9,12.  The figure for Dec 12 illustrates the “5-tiered” artifact of the spiral sequence with leaves 15/10, 14/9, 13/8, 12/7 and 16/11/6 in each tier.

These pictures demonstrate that the plants grow quite fast. They may not be very long-lived in nature. I estimate a life span of 15-20 years?

The first picture of this plant was taken in Dec 2011 when the leaves were numbered 1 to 10. Here in March 2014 leaves 1 through 12 have died away and there are 10 new leaves. At the same time the stem will be stretching as roots are replaced in a similar sequence. The life of the plant is going to be determined by the way in which the old stem and roots decay and how that decay will affect the ultimate health of the whole plant.


In the field it seems as though the decay of the old leaves and stem is well regulated as a sort of dry composting. In cultivation this can vary from this state to when all the roots and even the base of the stem can rot unhealthily. In the field one does finds moribund old plants that are at the end of their life and with large aged stems. Just how long the plant can maintain good health in either the field or in cultivation is an unknown. A grower just has to depend on experience and feel for his/her plants and this is why some time back I guessed at the normal life of one of these ‘retuse’ haworthia at about 10-15 years. Some things like T. pumila and H. coarctata are quite different as the stems can elongate and re-root along the ground. Plant of H. coarctata more than 3meters in diameter must be very old. Even H. reticulata or H. herbacea do this – look at H. cymbifomis ‘ramosa’. What you can consider is that new leaves and flowers follow a regular process and it is useful to remember that the plants go through a non-growing stage in the year. I tend to think most haworthia grow in the spring and autumn disliking the heat of summer and the cold of winter. But this is just a generalization that points to things that need to be considered. All species are not the same. Good root health is also associated with drainage and adequate air space in the growing medium.

In species like coarctata and reinwardtii – and I doubt that these are two different species – the plants easily lose obvious connection to the mother clone and a single clone can come to occupy a very large area. H. cymbiformis and H. angiustifolia can also spread widely by pieces breaking off to establish somewhere else. H. limifolia does it by stoloniferous expansion as can H. marumiana and H. zantnertiana. But coming back to the solitary non-pupping growth forms it would be interesting to know just where the essential life of the plant resides. Sometimes the stem just seems to get too thick and cutting it back too far also cuts away the support and source of the very young and new centre leaves.

What do you think this is?

Incidentally both the soft shale bands within the Sandstone strata as well as the Bokkeveld Shale above, decompose to kaolinic clay.

I took so many pictures that I will just post because I was so fascinated myself. The population is in an area quite new to me and wholly empty as far as haworthia records go – but perfectly predictable if you throw out the chaff. In the meantime, keep thinking.

The plants were all in much the same situations among sparse restioids and grass and very few other succulents. Next I will post better pictures of a few plants and explain a bit more.

What do we have so far? Mirabilis, ‘magnifica’, atrofusca, pygmaea, comptoniana, esterhuizenii, Quite good actually – but some serious omissions. Any more offers – these are all excellent.

Just to make sure the name “magnifica” makes sense, here are a few pictures taken at the type locality.

While looking at those magnifica pictures I was struck by these two to show how a retusa influence is present.

A closer look at the new find.

The scenery

what F1

Those flat top hills are the remnants of an ancient african plateaus prominent from near Barrydale to beyond Uniondale – north of the Langeberg. – silcrete upper layer like the concreted layers also present topping the inselbergs south of the Langeberg.

So what is it? If H. magnifica makes sense to anyone as a species, that person is lost to me. This new population is in the sequence from Muiskraal eastwards and it is H. emelyae (‘breueri’, ‘wimii’). The identifications put forward are nearly all in the context of H. mirabilis which includes ‘magnifica’. This naturally supports my perceptions that H. emelyae is in fact the karoo extension of H. mirabilis. More widely that H. mirabilis, pygmaea, retusa and emelyae form a single system. If one reads in the Updates the reports of Towerlands/Aaasvoelkrans one will appreciate the connection better. The “magnifica’ as a species myth is simply and easily dispelled by studying the floral data presented in updates. There is no reason why there should be any doubt and confusion that the cabal so enjoys and wallows in. Aloe barbara jeppeae indeed.

The truth of the matter is that there is no taxonomic solution other than recognising this and stop prostituting science in the name of populism.  There are hundreds if not thousands of people interested in Haworthia, and millions affected by the formal names of plants. I see some responsibility in respecting this fact and even more so in trying to understand what all this marvelous stuff really means. It comes down to what a species truly is and how it is defined. If I could bring just one person to that realization I might feel comfortable – with no one caring a damn, I am not. :) I have not far or long to go now and I will be posting more on this topic before I am finished.

M.B. Bayer
June 2016