Haworthia Revisited – 30. Haworthia pygmaea

30. Haworthia pygmaea V.Poelln., Feddes Repert.Spec.Nov. 27:132 (1930).  ibid. 41:208 (1937).  ibid. 43:104 (1938).  ibid., Kakteenkunde 9:104 (1937).  Bayer :148:(1976).  Bayer :51 (1982).  Type: Cape, Great Brak, Mrs van der Bijl.  Not preserved.  Neotype (B&M)): E. Great Brak, Fourcade 4759 (BOL).  H. asperula Haw. p.p. sensu C.L.Scott :119 (1985).

pygmaea: dwarf.

Rosette stemless, slowly proliferous, 6-10cm φ.  Leaves 12-15, retused, round-tipped, surface pellucid with obscure raised tubercles, sometimes intensely papillose.  Inflorescence simple, robust, to 30cm.  Flowers white with greenish veins.

1982 – The name is not very apt as H. pygmaea is not much smaller than any of its near relatives.  In fact it is very much bigger than H. parksiana, with which it grows.  However, in the field some plants only develop 2‑3 leaves and perhaps von Poellnitz received some of these.  The species is characterised by scabrid or obscurely papillate to papillate leaf surfaces, the leaf end-areas are flattish and the leaf tips rounded.  Von Poellnitz ascribed plants from Great Brak to several other species too, and there is a close similarity with some forms of H. emelyae, H. retusa and H. mutica.  Geographical considerations weigh heavily in retaining H. pygmaea as a species separate from H. retusa, as it is apparently confined to the area between Mossel Bay and Great Brak.  H. retusa var. dekenahii occurs east of Albertinia, approaching Mossel Bay, and perhaps could be regarded as intermediate.  H.  turgida changes fairly dramatically as it moves eastward and it occurs very close to H. pygmaea.  Thus these two species may be related in the same way that H. turgida is related to H. retusa.

1999 – The previous discussion is inaccurate in several respects.  The forms of H. emelyae referred to were probably of H. bayeri.  The forms of H. retusa were those tending to H. magnifica.  H. retusa var. dekenahii east of Albertinia is of course actually the var. argenteo-maculosa of H. dekenahii Smith, which in this work is regarded as a variety of H. pygmaea.  The recognition of the relationship between H. retusa and H. turgida negates the possibility of a similar relationship between H. pygmaea and H. turgida.  The form that has received most of the attention is the very shiny papillate one.  It does not occur in any specified area or as a distinctive population and varietal rank is not warranted.  There is a difficulty in distinguishing H. pygmaea from H. mutica in cultivation but the former should be recognisable by the presence of the surface tubercles.  These are however, very much less conspicuous than in H. magnifica var. splendens.

a. var. pygmaea.
Confined to the Great Brak and Mossel Bay area.

Distribution: 3422 (Mossel Bay): Great Brak (‑AA), Bayer 2241 (NBG), Morris in PRE 34890, Luckhoff in NBG1871/24 (BOL); Near Great Brak (-AA), Luckhoff 6269 (PRE); E. Great Brak (-AA), Fourcade 4759 (BOL); W. Great Brak (-AA), Smith 2919 (NBG), Bayer 2287 (NBG); Dumbie Dykes (-AA), Bayer 2289 (NBG).

b. var. argenteo-maculosa (Smith) Bayer comb. nov. 
Bayer, Aloe 34: 6(1997), H. dekenahii var. argenteo-maculosa Smith, J.S.Afr.Bot. 11:74 (1945).  H. retusa forma argenteo-maculosa (Smith) Bayer :98(1976).  Type: CAPE‑3421 (Riversdale): between Gouritz Bridge and Mossel Bay (‑BB), S. Emett in NBG 68037.

argenteo-maculosa: silver spotted.

The locality for this variety could be at one of at least two localities known east of the Gouritz Bridge and the name is also applied to a population just west of Mossel Bay itself.  There is undoubtedly a very strong link with H. magnifica var. splendens which has more conspicuous surface tubercles.  The variety is separated from the typical species by the more conspicuous white flecking in the leaves and also by its relative smoothness.

Distribution: 3421 (Riversdale): between Gouritz Bridge and Mossel Bay (‑BB), S. Emett in NBG 68037; A few km E. Gouritz River Bridge (-BB), Smith 3959 (NBG,PRE); Cooper Siding (-BB), Bayer (NBG); Humor (-BB), Bayer (NBG). 3422 (Mossel Bay): W. Mossel Bay (-AA), Schoemann (NBG).

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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