Haworthia mutica (groenewaldii) and its twisted leaves.

In this article Bruce Bayer responds to the notion that apparent leaf twist arrangement is a defining characteristic and further explains his disagreement in recognizing the Buffeljags plants as a new species.  (Also see Haworthia flowers – some comments as a character source, Volume 7, Chapter 4:- What is typical Haworthia mutica?, and Volume 7, Chapter 2:- Further exploration in Haworthia. Further to finale.)  The species definition Bayer uses is that populations are fractal and DNA is governed by mathematical non-linearity.  What does that mean?  We have space with two dimensions latitude and longitude, and we have time with two dimensions – calendar time, and the speed (instability) of the arrangement of the DNA base pairs.  At any moment in linear calendar time there will be an arrangement of the DNA depending on the stability of the DNA.  At one time there will be a clear set of ‘species’ and at another time a different set as the mix of characteristics continually change within and between the populations.  ~ Lawrence Loucka

Haworthia mutica (groenewaldii) and its twisted leaves.
By M.B. Bayer

There is some argument about the status of this population of plants at Buffeljags.  I have explained my opinion of it based on a species definition that I use.  I also have reported on three other populations a short way away at Rotterdam.  Furthermore I have discussed the flowers at length in a flower report.  These are all available free on Haworthiaupdates.org.  Gerhard Marx does not agree.  The disagreement first has its roots in what constitutes a species and Marx stays with the standard view that characters are what define species.  I opt for the view that species are systems related to geographic distribution and to all the elements that drive vegetation and change (evolution + equals change from some unknown initial condition).  I think these patterns of change and difference are fractal i.e. detailed pattern repeating itself.  Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the organization of pattern is according to a mathematical function which is non-linear.  This means that the end product has many different outcomes.  But this is complexity just of argument that none of us can deal with.

What comes into the geographic nature of species is also the nature of habitat.  What happens is that we have a set of apparent species in Haworthia with a known distribution range.  These species are primarily H. retusa and H. mirabilis.  There is clear evidence that H. pygmaea  and H. mutica emerge from a milieu of populations of those two and that H. floribunda is also involvedBuffeljags is geographically central to this arrangement and the habitat (wrongly described in the description of H. groenewaldii) is very unlike those where the named species generally occur.  It is thus no surprise that the plants appear different.  The Buffeljags population and its habitat also differ to a small degree from the west side of the river, but both are essentially geologically fairly recent river alluvial deposit.

Marx is insistent that the plants at Buffeljags are so different as to be a discrete species and I disagree.  My disagreement is based on my experience of characters in plants.  In Haworthia I think these are few and obscure.  Thus it is almost impossible to delineate or circumscribe a species by characters and no one has succeeded in producing an identification key that can work.  All the differences of opinion and argumentation about names come down to this issue of a species definition and the characters available to recognize them.

The essential points made for H. groenewaldii as a species is the shiny leaf surface and the flowering time.  H. mutica does flower four  months earlier – agreed.  But H. marginata in the same close area also flowers similarly out of synchronicity with H. marginata elsewhere, as H. minima was also observed to do.   In elaborating differences for H. groenewaldii, Marx offered the facts that the plants had fish-tail buds and that H. mutica did not.  Very soon after he stated that he did not actually know what the case was in H. mutica.

 Fig. 1 to 9, MBB7801 Haworthia mutica (groenewaldii), Buffeljags.

In addition he maintained that the leaves in H. groenewaldii were different as follows…”In terms of the angled newer leaves of H. groenewaldii, have a look at the plants again and you’ll see the young leaves are consistently twisted sideways.  A spiraling effect. This never shows up in H. mutica”.  I find this statement very odd because  such a structural difference would come down to a difference on the level of genus or even family. So I looked at the plants I have in my possession and provide illustrations here to demonstrate no significant deviation in respect of twisting.  I have even included a picture of a mature plant (fig. 10) of H. mirabilis to show the same “character”. The spiralling effect is universal in the aloids and is even visible in those species with distichous leaves.  In the retusoids, where H. mutica belongs, the leaves have been said to be 5-farious. More usually it is possible to see them as trifarious.  In young seedlings the leaves are bifarious as the very basic  spiral effect comes into play.

I do not think this is a character one can use to distinguish a species at all. There are many cases where it is fairly possible to characterize populations by a wide range of so-called characters. My opinion is that generally in the many species (by my definition) of Haworthia this can virtually only be done at individual plant level. The Buffeljags and Rotterdam populations are simply the western counterparts of populations around Albertinia (eg H. mirabilis ‘splendens’,  H. pygmaea ‘fusca’, H. pygmaea ‘esterhuizenii’) that emanate from the relationship of the prime species that I named above.

Mystery – part 17, H. mirabilis and groenewaldii

50. 2019.7.9 – While I have dwelt a bit on the oddities that comprise H floribunda, I have said very little about H. mirabilis. In my early days I recognised things like H. maraisii, H. magnifica, H. heidelbergensis and how specimens cited from von Poelnitz’ H. nitidula may have actually been drawn from 10 different species of the time! I have since written extensively about H. mirabilis and pointed out several times the “problem of H. magnifica”. The population that this “species” was drawn from is so variable as to stagger the mind, and yet not that different for each of the many other populations. Yet the biggest purveyor, and one of the supposed all-knowing experts on Haworthia tells me that the binomial H. magnifica makes sense to him. Nothing can be more bizarre than this. A truly mental distortion. Influence of the moon. : ) So please bear in mind that H. floribunda is not some out-of-the-ordinary mix of unlike things. Here are just a few variants from the “magnifica” source, and one (at least) definitely infused with H. retusa. Call it hybrid if you insist.

It should perhaps be remembered that it has been mistakenly assumed (particularly by G G Smith) that Haworthia could be revised in the same way that Reynolds did with the genus Aloe. In Aloe, the individuals in the population are close to identical and in fact also from population to population. Haworthia taxonomists use the same approach today and it does not work. It is plain fraudulent to base a description on what is essentially an unrepresentative specimen or sample. Hence the absurdity of a statement that any description could have been reasonably made of a population like that of H. magnifica, and make sense.

51. 2019.7.10 – So let us look now at these amazing plants that comprise H. groenewaldii without confusing respect and deep consideration for the persona, the equally remarkable quality of the plants, with the problem of a classification that is true. The habitat on the east bank of the Buffeljags River needs to be noted as quite unlike any other occupied by the retusoids/mirabiloids/emelyoids. It is shallow alluvium over a very old shale layer.

Lawrence Loucka: Is the pointy tipped one from the same population?

Bruce Bayer: Yes Lawrence, I am glad you asked – and this is how amateur taxonomists depart from basic principles. A basic principle is that a species is a universal truth and all inclusive – so this must be H. groenewaldii too just as are all the other variants that are side-lined. There is absurdity and incongruence in the way these things are described and typified. This is what I highlighted in the case of H. magnifica. More to come.

52. 2019.7.11 – On the east bank there are 3 fairly discrete populations and it was obvious that looking across the flood plain that they must also be on the opposite west bank. Sure enough, also 3 and more discrete populations. Now there is a difference between east and west bank. The erosion/deposition cycles are or were, quite different. The east bank is abutted by wheat fields while the west bank is a nature reserve (Bontebok National Park) precisely because it was unsuitable for agriculture!! Thank goodness for non-arabiity. But like the east bank there is a veneer of alluvium of probably equal age. You can determine if the plants on the two banks are strictly the same by the same criteria “new species” is touted. Mirabilis, floribunda, and Tulista marginata. T. minimima in proximity but all in discrete habitat. There is some pupping as Solomon asked but the plains dwellers are less prone to pupping than cliff occupants anyway.

53. 2019.7.12 – Now a second population from the west bank and from these few pictures you now know what groenewaldii unmistakably is? You also have a good image of H. floribunda? and H. retusa? and H. mirabilis? and you think H. magnifica is a good species? And of course like the author of the H groenewaldii you know H. mutica intimately. Some surprises in store for you. Perhaps from the limited array of pictures posted here you are better equipped than some of these taxonomists who proclaim names.

Mystery – part 23, Groenewaldii conservation

67. 2019.7.25 – I think I will have to shut down on this topic as I am clearly misunderstood on most fronts that matter in general society. My species definition sets me apart from botany and science as a total oddball viz … dynamic fractal systems of living organisms that are physically (genetically, morphologically, physiologically) and metaphysically, continuous in time and space. I do not add another sentence but suggest that this is a conscious creation and there is a lot more to species than an endless list of binomials.

How can I stop? Essentially I am being blamed for the implementation of a multi-million rand agricultural project by not opposing it on the basis of fraud. If instead of touting groenewaldii as discrete oddity only on the east bank, it was seen as a critical element in a vast complex system, I think a 10 times better argument is available. In any case here is a map showing one of two other localities on the west bank. One extends into the Bontebok Park a little west. Some of my readers just do not seem to get it.

Solomon Nomolos: People who care (most) about earth are constantly in contention with people care (most) about money. It’s always a battle to preserve the sacred in the face of profit. What ever anyone wants to call that plant we can all agree it’s beautiful and we can also all agree that citrus fruit is relatively easy to grow in many different regions.

Bruce Bayer: Solomon – now we move that landowner somewhere else too? I think I met the guy – already displaced from somewhere else battling with a dairy business in the face of that industry’s problems. Then also move the citrus to the Stormsvlei area and rather destroy that equally unusual population. Besides this is not the only point. The plant could still be safe on the west bank – for a while until that landowner starts to feel financial pressure. We are all to the singe individual, totally confused and confounded with no insight into the creation and its purpose.

Solomon Nomolos: I get it … it’s heartbreaking to me. Here in my country they’ve given up protection year after year, there are oil drilling operations everywhere, it’s always in the name of jobs. It seems to me there is no end to it all, one place at a time we are ruining the planet. And I have to ask from time to time when is enough enough?

Bruce Bayer: I would like to remind visitors that this site is about a specific hypothesis and the use of the word “species” with full appreciation for what it means and what a Latin binomial represents. Conservation is a completely different issue and also not something that you prostitute science for. Or common sense for that matter.

Bruce Bayer: An interesting take … “It is better to tell the truth and make someone cry, than to tell a lie and make someone smile”. Science and religion have destroyed what it really means to be human. These two disciplines should both be about truth and in accord with one another. It sure would help me in the wreckage of Latin binomials.

Solomon Nomolos: Subjectivism has done more damage I would say. The idea -according to what I can see- of being human is living in the broken state. Humans are bent from birth, and have made no positive contributions to earth. They’ve also all together abandoned the notion of living with the earth, in her cycles, with her motions. I think religion is another social weapon created by men. Science is seldom viewed in balance because the eye in which we use to view it sits atop the pride and ego of its possessors.

Bruce Bayer: Solomon I think it is that science as it is thrust on the human psyche is a form of particularisation and reductionism. So you are quite right. Abandoning living with the earth is simply not recognising that this is a conscious creation. Life is not a mechanical, physical or chemical process. Species are living things.

A serious issue of availability of plants is a topic that no one wants to touch. My personal view is that conservation issues cloud the scene to the detriment of conservation itself, to the detriment of commercial horticulture, as well as to people who are interested in and enjoy these plants. There is no need for it. But who has an answer. Ivory – one school says burning of hundreds of tons of tusks stopped poaching and others say it encouraged it. Again my personal view is that prohibition and exclusion are as immoral as poaching.