Haworthia Revisited – 18. Haworthia magnifica

18. Haworthia magnifica V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 33:239(1933).  Bayer, Natn.Cact.Succ.J 32:18(1977).  Bayer :44(1982).  H. maraisii var. magnifica (V.Poelln.) Bayer :131(1976).  Type: Cape, Riversdale commonage, Mrs E. Ferguson.  Not preserved.  Lectotype (B&M): Riversdale, Ferguson (BOL).

magnifica: magnificent.

Rosette stemless, slowly proliferous, to 8 cm φ.  Leaves spreading, retused to ground level, dark green to purplish, scabrid to finely spined margins, end-area slightly translucent between the veins, surfaces with small slightly raised tubercles.  Inflorescence slender, to 40cm.  Flowers brownish veined, few open, upper lobes pinched at tips.

1982 – Haworthia magnifica is an incredibly variable species and it will not be possible to gain any insight into probable affinities with H. turgida, H. retusa, H. emelyae and H. mirabilis without in‑depth study.  It is characterized by its dark‑green colour, small size, short green‑lined buds and flowers, and ‘fish‑tail’ bud tips.  It flowers in March ‑ April although this varies and only serves as a character to distinguish the species from H. mirabilis.  Only the more notable and widely spread forms are recognized as varieties here.  There are several other populations which could justly be named as varieties.  The variety major has an unusually large flower similar to that of H. emelyae and there is evidence of intergradation of these two taxa.  The var. paradoxa may constitute a south‑eastern link between H. magnifica and H. mirabilis, except that truer forms of H. magnifica var. maraisii intercede along the Breede River and at Bredasdorp.  The var. maraisii at its type locality at Stormsvlei is quite a robust form which adopts many guises in the Robertson/Worcester area.  South of Stormsvlei there is an aberrant population which appears intermediate between the var maraisii and H. mirabilis.  However, just north of Stormsvlei, H. mirabilis occurs in a small, many‑leaved form.  The var. meiringii appears vegetatively very like a smaller, darker green version of H. herbacea, until it flowers.  Also to the west it intergrades into the more characteristic retuse‑leaved var. maraisii.  The var. notabilis also has erect leaves which are darker green and more turgid than in the case of H. herbacea.  The var. atrofusca was originally collected from west of Riversdale and is characterized by its rounded leaf tips.  The var. magnifica has unusually long acuminate leaf tips and is restricted to a small area southeast of Riversdale, recurring again just west of Heidelberg.  H. magnifica has been recorded north of both Montagu and Barrydale and as far south as Cape Infanta and westwards to Bredasdorp.  Consideration of the variability of this species and distribution of variants is very helpful towards understanding variability in the genus as a whole.

1996 – The comment ‘in-depth study’ is quite inappropriate in the Haworthia literature which generally suffers from any formal objective study.  What has happened since 1982 is much further collecting which has brought some new perceptions.  The problems with this species are exemplified by Scott’s circumscription and synonymy of H. asperula where it is barely possible to separate all the diverse elements included in it.  Esterhuizen wrote in ALOE (1996) that it was easier for him to separate the var. atrofusca from var. maraisii, than from magnifica.  This perspicacious observation is all the more so for the new collections from east of Riversdale, and also for the changed view of H. heidelbergensis.  It has been decided to separate the elements maraisii and magnifica because it appears that they relate to each other as H. heidelbergensis does to H. mirabilis.  It is also more realistic that some of the varieties that were with magnifica are rather variants of H. maraisii.  Thus H. magnifica is applied to the eastern populations which are rather more robust and in which the end-area of the leaf is longer and more pointed.  If the end-area is shortened it is also rounded.  H. magnifica is usually more greenish than the nearly black H. maraisii.  Where previously  considering H. retusa as a major element has led to problems, the perception that H. turgida and H. magnifica are the main role players makes it easier to understand what the different populations may represent.  This should be apparent from the varieties recognised here, and in the corresponding discussion.


a. var. magnifica.
Originally from only south of Riversdale.  The name is now also applied to the population from south of the Tradouw Pass, and to that just east of Riversdale.  These are quite robust plants with rather scabrid, sub-tuberculate leaves with denticulation of the margins at least.  The surfaces may also be slightly scabrid with the tubercles bearing small spines.  The plants are lighter green in colour than H. maraisii.

Distribution: 3420 (Bredasdorp): Tradouw Pass (-BA), Smith 6788 (NBG).  3421 (Riversdale): S. Riversdale at beacon (-AA), Smith 5372 (NBG), Bayer in KG83/71 (NBG); Reserve (‑AB), J. Dekenah 16 (NBG); E. Riversdale (-AB), Smith 5376, 5376a, 5748 (NBG), Bayer in KG92/71 (NBG); Riversdale (-AB), Dekenah 6a (PRE); (-AB), Smith 5372 (PRE); Riversdale (-AB), Muir 3553 (PRE).

Inadequately located: Riversdale, Smith 3900, 5057 (NBG).

b. var. acuminata comb.nov. 
H. retusa forma acuminata Bayer :94(1976).  H. retusa var. acuminata Bayer :53(1982).  Type: CAPE‑3421 (Riversdale): N. of Gouritzmond (‑BD), Bayer in KG 311/7 (NBG).

acuminata: sharp pointed.

Previously under H. retusa, this variety has been transferred here because of the now restricted view of that species, and the new concept of H. magnifica.  It is only known from the one locality as the original nearby locality appears to have been destroyed.

Distribution: 3421(Riversdale): N. of Gouritzmond (‑BD), Bayer in KG 311/7 (NBG), Bayer 2423 (NBG); S. Gouritz Bridge (-BD), Smith 5047 (NBG); 9.5km Gouritz to Albertskraal (-BD), Smith 3946 (NBG).

c.var. atrofusca (Smith) Bayer
Natn.Cact.Succ.J 32:18(1977).  Bayer :44(1982).  H. atrofusca Smith, JS.Afr.Bot. 14:41(1948).  Bayer :100(1976).  Scott :130(1985).  Type: CAPE‑3421 (Riversdale): (‑AA), J. Dekenah 225 in Smith 6169 (NBG).

atrofusca: very dark brown.

This variety was represented by a single small population to the west of Riversdale and characterised by the blunt rounded leaf-tips.  This is in effect a single character which occurs in other populations and other species.  The scope of the variety is widened to include the large element to the north and west of Riversdale collected mostly by C. Craib (unpublished).  These are large brownish-green to blackish plants which are densely and finely tubercled against a scarcely translucent background.  The original variety and populations to the west include forms with sharply pointed leaves.  There is a very interesting population in the Potberg area to the west of the Breede River.  The habitat is identical to that of the type locality.  It is very unusual to encounter such a vicariant distribution record in the genus where isolated plants so closely resemble the type.

Distribution: 3420 (Bredasdorp): NW. Kathoek (-AD), Bayer & Bruyns 6549 (NBG).  3421(Riversdale): (‑AA), J. Dekenah 225 in Smith 6169 (NBG), Bayer in KG202/70 (NBG); Droerivier (-AA), Bayer 2665 (NBG).

d. var. dekenahii (Smith) Bayer comb.nov. 
H. dekenahii Smith, JS.Afr.Bot. 10:140(1944).  H. retusa var. dekenahii (Smith) Bayer :53(1982).  Type: Cape, on farm Draaihoek (-BA), J. Dekenah 86 in Smith 5489 (NBG).

dekenahii: for Japie Dekenah, a born naturalist.

This element as a species was completely discarded in the 1976 handbook and resurrected as a variety of H. retusa in 1982.  Col. Scott upholds it as a species but illustrates H. turgida var. pallidifolia which co-occurs with it.  The significant things about this variety are the raised tubercles on the leaves, the silver flecks, and the blunt rounded leaf-tips.

Distribution: 3421 (Riversdale): Draaihoek (-BA), J. Dekenah 86 in Smith 5489 (BOL,NBG,PRE).

e. var. splendens Hammer and Venter
Cact.Succ.J(U.S.) in ms.  Type: W. Albertinia (-BA), Venter (NBG).

splendens: splendid.

The name is indeed apt.  I first saw this plant in about 1970 in a visit to Dr Hans Herre.  I simply assumed the unlabelled pinkish-red plant with the shiny black raised tubercles was an unusual specimen of H. emelyae which itself was practically unknown to me at that time.  The full story of this variety is better told by the authors whose persistence and tenacity led to its rediscovery at what is presumed to be a second locality – the first apparently having been destroyed.  Strangely enough a further population was discovered fatefully, and perhaps fortuitously, by Mary Parisi and Ed Dunne to the east of Albertinia.  The word fatefully are used with some deliberation because these two people deliberately avoided the contamination of plans aforethought in wanting to do their own exploration and discovery.  This eastern population flowers earlier together with the var. acuminata and also with H. emelyae.  There is obviously some significance to this which implies some cross-mountain connection and throws some doubt on the relation of the H. emelyae varieties.

Distribution: 3421 (Riversdale): E. Albertinia (-BA), Marx sn. (NBG); W. Albertinia (-BA), Venter (NBG).

Volume 2, Chapter 2:- A population of Haworthia magnifica/maraisii

After writing Haworthia Revisited in 1996, I became aware of just how inadequate readers seem to be to the task of assimilating all the available literature on Haworthia, in the botanical and intellectual climate in which we live.  It seems as though the more information we have the more confused we become.  In order to generate the material needed to disprove or fortify my classification hypothesis, I have spent a further considerable amount of time in the field and in cultivating plants from seed.  Unfortunately the editorial support and speed of publication has not kept pace with my own effort and much of my writing and my evidence is still in manuscript form.  This short essay was therefore to put forward only a little more evidence to show just how complex plant species are – not necessarily only in Haworthia.

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Volume 3, Chapter 13:- Haworthia IS confusing.

In a very interesting book by Stephen Gould entitled “Rock of Ages”, in which he propounds his principle of NOMA – non-overlapping magisteria.  This states that science and religion should not be confused nor mixed.

So this is not a confession of confusion – you do not confess to what is obvious.  It is an admission, and an admission can be construed as an apology.  But, as a rhetorical question, how can one apologize and expect forgiveness when one continues to walk the errant path?

I started to write about Haworthia to dispel confusion, and yet more than 40 years on, this confusion has not become any less.  The conclusion I have come to (and I wish it was a closure) is that the prime source of confusion is simply the human condition.  In mystic philosophy one can read… “Born in ignorance, we live in ignorance and we die in ignorance”.

I think that my interest in Haworthia stems from my conscious effort to dispel this primal confusion and find some of the order in my view of creation.  The classification of plants suggested just one small piece of my world which was available to me, and Haworthia as one group which no one else could explain to me.  What have I now learned and what contribution does this make to dispel confusion?

My courage to now say something more directly arises from a recent request by SANBI to write a synopsis of Haworthia for an E. Cape Flora.  I feel that I have done that fairly successfully.  The problem is now to produce a similar product for the SW Cape and this is considerably more difficult.

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Volume 4, Chapter 1:- That squadron of Haworthias from Albertinia eastwards.


I wrote a short note for Haworthiad, to explain a picture of Breuer’s new species H. fusca  (MBB7507), and said “… the fact is that it is from a small population just west of Albertinia en route to another of Hayashi’s (?) species H. esterhuyzeniae, and also to Breuer’s H. vincentii.  As readers we are being conditioned to accept that there are many kinds of species such as biological species, morphological species, taxonomic species, good species, bad species etc etc. so a latin binomial could mean anything (and the word ‘tautology’ has been added to my vocabulary).  Botany needs a sensible and practical handle to a squadron of populations from between Albertinia and Great Brak.  I would gladly supply this if somehow I could be assured that the act was not seen to be the clown’s contribution to the circus.”

Without any assurance, but with the encouragement of Stirling Baker, I am going to try and produce an explanation.

Put very bluntly and without any apology to a group of people who definitely deserve better, my life experience is that taxonomy is largely a farce despite the fact that it works surprisingly and exceedingly well.  I have already written around the subject a number of times and do not want to repeat what is not necessarily true other than the contribution these thoughts have made to my personal psyche.

In this contribution I am discuss, illustrate and then propose that there are just two species, H. retusa and H. pygmaea in a complex where presently more than nine species and varietal names are being used.  I do this in consideration of all the populations of Haworthia known to me in the winter rainfall biome. Thus I recognize the need to rationalize species like H. mirabilis (which will then absorb H. maraisii, H. magnifica and H., heidelbergensis, and H. retusa (which will absorb H. turgida.  There is a major problem in that the populations indicate three species in the west, viz. H.  mirabilis, H. retusa and H. mutica but these appear to fuse or morph to two in the east.  My past treatment of species and varieties like maraisii, magnifica, acuminata, dekenahii, argenteo-maculosa will bear witness to the nature of the (my) problem.

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Volume 5, Chapter 3:- Haworthia Deglamorized. A Recapitulation.

Steven Hammer, in his inimitable style, put a very fresh face on Haworthia in CSJl 80:140 (2008). He drew attention to the wonder of the plants in cultivation for the collector, contrasted to a reality of unglamorous scruffiness in the field as per the lens and pen of Bayer. It has fallen to my lot as a very unwilling taxonomist to reduce the fascination these plants have for me, and for so many others, to the mundane vortex of labels, their proliferation and continual amendment.  he fact is whether on a label or on the tongue, a name is a part of any language we use to talk to each other; but we are not learning anything from a well-documented history and in Haworthia seem to remain lost in a maze.

The unhappy truth for Haworthia is that by the time von Poellnitz in Germany, G.G.Smith in South Africa, F. Resende in Portugal, A.J.A. Uitewaal in Holland,  W.Triebner in Namibia, J.W.Dodson and J.R.Brown in USA had either left or abandoned the scene, there were any number of names that meant very little more than the Latin they were written in.  J.R. Brown presented a talk, A brief review of the Genus Haworthia, to the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society that was published in the Cactus and Succulent Journal of America 29:125-135 (1957).  He noted the number of species and varietal names at 160 and 370 (!) respectively, arranged in 20 sections.

While J.R. Brown was winding down (his last note on Haworthia was published in 1970), I was busy trying to make sense of a two large files that seemed to form the body of a manuscript by G.G.Smith for which Mrs. M. Courtenay-Latimer had drafted a title… “A monograph of the genus Haworthia.”  This manuscript comprised a collection of all current species descriptions arranged in the purported twenty sections of Berger and accompanied by many illustrations from the original publications, as well as by many of Smith’s own photographs and those of H.G.Fourcade. We know that Smith retired in a huff, but was there really good reason for his exit?

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Volume 5, Chapter 10:- Haworthia ‘enigma’ and H. mutica var nigra.

7778 H. mirabilis. Komserante 4900

If the name “H.enigma” applies to the plant (or plants) from east of Riversdale at Komserante, it is a name that I really do not advise to be taken seriously from a botanical point of view.  It is useful at population level and to demonstrate the nature of classification difficulties but it is a minor problem in so far as those difficulties extend.  The plants were first shown to me by J. Dekenah on the same day that he also showed me ”H. magnifica” in the Nature Reserve just south of Riversdale that is less than 3km away. My impression then was that it was the same element even if it did look a bit different. The plants are quite large (to 70mm diameter), fairly tubercled and often with lines in the upper retused area of the leaf face.  While I originally classified “H. maraisii” under “H. magnifica”, I later separated them because it seemed so incongruous to include all the variants of the western “H. maraisii” with the few populations of “H. magnifica” then known.  Also, as Essie Esterhuizen pointed out, “H atrofusca” as a variant of “H. magnifica”, seemed to be more dominant than had been realized.  There were several other complications largely due to ignorance. Since my revision I have done so much more exploration and turned up so much new material that I have been forced to the conclusion that there is really one main element involved and that is H. mirabilis. This is where I believe the Komserante plants belong and the difference from the Nature Reserve population is due to a degree of infusion of H. retusa.

I revisited the site with Kobus Venter many years ago but did not look at a reported second population higher up the hill, taking it to be a little different based on plants I saw in Kobus’ collection. What was on my mind while we were recently exploring the area further east to examine the possible connection of H. mirabilis “magnifica” to “splendens” (and which we confirmed), was the fact I had never seen Kobus’ plants from Kruis Rivier northeast of Riversdale other than in Kobus’ collection. The plants I saw were also generally more robust than “H. magnifica” and more evenly tubercled. Kobus kindly took me to that Kruis River locality and much to my surprise the plants were in flower late October (see JDV92/65 Figs1). This is quite wrong for H. mirabilis, which is essentially a summer flowering species. I later went again to explore Komserante more thoroughly and to look at both the “magnifica” populations to which I believe the name “H. enigma” has been applied.  he populations are in fact no more than 75m apart and cannot be considered to be genetically discrete at all (see MBB7778 Figs 2, and MBB7779 Figs 3). While it is true that the habitats are slightly different, this is reflected in the plants that at the upper slope of the hillside are vegetatively more robust and even clump forming, while those lower down in a bushier grassier habitat tend to be solitary and more withdrawn into the soil. These plants flower in summer and it is evident to me that there must have been some genetic exchange with H. retusa that grows approximately 200m away on the same hillside.

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