Haworthia Updates Vol. 1 – Table of Contents

Haworthia Updates vol. 1


Haworthia Update, Volume 1 – Foreward


Much of the early work on Haworthia was based on fairly limited observations in nature. These were essentially point collections (often very close to roads) from which seemingly discrete elements were recognised as species. This is akin to a survey made from a plane flying at low altitude assuming that broader patterns are being more easily identified at this illusory distance. The obvious danger of such incomplete observations is that simplistic or incorrect conclusions might be drawn. Indeed, the classification often seems easy from such selective sampling.

When Bruce Bayer started his studies of the genus Haworthia circa 1970, a new era of more methodical collection and thorough recording of the material resulted. Due to the enormity of the task, Bruce’s fieldwork focussed on the Worcester/Robertson Karoo, where he built up an excellent understanding of the natural variation of and complex interaction between the recognised species of the area. His resulting model was then extrapolated to lesser-known areas further east. This work culminated in the landmark publications The New Haworthia Handbook in 1982 and Haworthia Revisited in 1999, where a classification framework for understanding the genus was proposed. This framework has been extensively field-tested by a number of people, including myself, and found to be workable.

Bruce remained doubtful about some of his solutions which were based on insufficient collection data, and some new collections which were difficult to place within the framework. During the course of the past few years he has studied further some of the problem areas, the results of which are presented in this update. New insights were gained which are used to propose an improved framework, in the form of a hypothesis, for the major Eastern Cape species complexes. As Bruce points out, this is not the only possible solution as there seem to be several alternatives, each with some reservation, when attempting to explain the observed natural variation. Some problem areas in the Eastern Cape and Little Karoo warrant further detailed investigation. Nevertheless, this work presents a valuable extension of our knowledge of Haworthia.

In his foreword to The New Haworthia Handbook in 1982, Prof. H. B. Rycroft said “the wide range of species and their endless variability keep the professional taxonomist fully occupied and sometimes confused”. This account shows how local continuities exist between adjacent species, only to be contradicted by discontinuities elsewhere between the same species. It is a pleasure for me to introduce you to this fascinating story.


Kobus Venter
Still Bay
December 2001



Foreword by the Publisher

This collection of essays deals with some of the more intractable problems in the classification of Haworthia, and demonstrates just how ambiguous types can be. It also demonstrates the scale and nature of the problem in a far clearer way than Bayer’s revision. Bayer himself has said that his revision is still probably premature, and that a lot more needs to be known about Haworthia. This up-to-date account shows where some of the difficulties lie and that it is difficult to determine discontinuities in the species of the genus. Bayer pointed out that there seemed little sense in the emphasis on, and pre-occupation with, types and names, when the elements to which they are being applied are simply misunderstood or even unknown.

The process of the classification of plants is ongoing and it is correct that work should be published before the final solution is reached, as such solutions are probably unattainable. It is therefore appropriate that Haworthia Revisited should be followed by the present series of essays. It is the intention to continue publishing further collections of essays, at present four sets are envisaged. When the first four are complete, they will be bound into “collectors” editions and made available to purchasers of the original books.


Umdaus Press



Haworthia Update, Volume 1 – Introduction

Haworthia Update Essays on Haworthia – Volume 1
Umdaus Press, Hatfield, South Africa, 1999

To my wife Daphne.

2.Haworthia mucronata and its new variety.
3.Haworthia gracilis, H. cymbiformis and H. cooperi in the greater Baviaanskloof area.
4.The case of Haworthia incurvula – an up-date.
5.Haworthia cooperi and H. bolusii var. blackbeardiana.
6.The Haworthias of Kaboega.

When I undertook to re-write my New Haworthia Handbook, and present it as an authoritative revision, I did so with some apprehension.  However, I did so because in the intervening years my classification had proved personally satisfying.  Also I saw little no evidence of the “adequatio” for the task anywhere else, either in circumstance, or willingness, or field experience, to do so.  I am an aspirant mystic with none of the transport experience which should have given me the vision I sought.  The hermetic and intuitive approach is all I have really been able to bring to my work other than a passion for truthfulness and understanding.

Now, three years after the initial drafting, Haworthia Revisited is published.  The initial shock and ‘post-natal’ depression is over and I can look at it more dispassionately.  My self-doubts had driven me back into the field and through many bouts of self-examination.  There are no doubt many minor mistakes in the book, one of which is the appearance in my preface, of the word “difference” instead of the word “deference”.  The latter was intended to convey the sentiment “courteous regard for others”.

After drafting the book, I tried to divorce myself from the manuscript and even from the plants themselves.  However, nagging doubts and uncertainties remained with me, and these papers are the product of some intensive field “work”.  I use the word in inverted commas for two reasons.  Firstly the word “work” in this regard is very loosely used.  Wandering around in the field, stumbling on plants here and there and anxiously uprooting them by hands sticky with excitement at “new’ things, does not constitute “work”.  Secondly, it is in fact the most rewarding and stimulating way of coming into contact with a most extraordinary and marvelous natural environment.  The actual work entails the making of the tangible physical record that places a specimen on the scientific map.  I also wrote in my revision (p.12) “A revision.. stands and falls.. on .. the dry and uninteresting herbarium record”.  The work therefore also entails deliberating about and examining the herbarium record with a good knowledge of its content.  The implications that any new collection may have for that record and the way in which it is arranged, have to be considered and evaluated.  That constitutes the “work”, and helps define an important aspect of the “adequatio” required for it to be proven as such.

I have not been able to reduce all the new collections I have made since 1996 to such a record.  The plants are in cultivation and are being propagated by seed and offset, and are being recorded in this written record and by photographs.  There is still a great deal to be done.  Unlike T.L.Salter, who closed his revision of Oxalis with words which suggested that he had had enough, or like G.G.Smith who retired invalidated by the criticism he felt directed towards him, I hope I can continue to “work” on Haworthia.

This book consists of five essays discussing specific problems in the classification and identification of Haworthia.  The two subjects are inseparable and unfortunately it is simply a case in which the species cannot be identified unless they are known.  My life’s experience suggests to me that this is a sad truth for many things.  Thus I rely very heavily on photographs to provide a comprehensive picture description of all the items discussed.  The relevant photograph is numbered and this number preceded by a hyphen, usually follows the first reference to a collection number. Each essay has its own lesson and its own conclusion.  A final sixth essay attempts to summarise and suggest a solution to a difficult problem.

I would particularly like to thank the following who have been so supportive and helpful during the exploration and writing of these papers:-

W. Schwegmann, J. D. Venter, D. M. Cumming, E. J. van Jaarsveld, P. V. Bruyns, T. Dold, D. Weekes, J. G. Marx, E. Heunis, E. Aslander, D. Clark, L. Loucka and C. Marais.

Farm owners have also been particularly helpful and I am very grateful indeed for access to such properties. In this case I am indebted to Mr and Mrs N. Sparg, Mr and Mrs Killian, Mr P. Moolman and Mr J. Truter.

Lastly I am very indebted to Ian and Sandy Ritchie of Kaboega for their hospitality and kindness, and for sharing their own Eden and love of nature so generously with Daphne and myself. I must also record my gratitude and respect to the owners of Kaboega, and note the contribution they are making towards conservation – Mr and Mrs Andre Bezuidenhout.

I am grateful to Umdaus Press, and particularly to Mr J. A. Retief, for their encouragement, support and effort to bring this work to fruition.

Acknowledgement is hereby given to Cape Nature Conservation and to the Eastern and Northern Cape Provincial Nature Conservation Authorities for the permits which were issued for the necessary but limited collecting required for this work. In the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Provinces of the Republic of South Africa, all species of the genus Haworthia are classified as “protected flora” in terms of the Nature and Environmental Conservation Ordinance, 1974 (Ordinance 19 of 1974), as it is applicable to each of the afore-mentioned Provinces. Material for this book was gathered and collected on terms of the spirit and letter of this Ordinance. Nothing in the book should be construed as an encouragement to acquire these plants from their natural habitat or to suggest they are better located anywhere but in that situation.

M B Bayer, 16 Hope Str., 8001 Cape Town.

Volume 1, Chapter 1:- Haworthia gracilis, H. cymbiformis and H. cooperi in the greater Baviaanskloof area

I will be disappointed if anyone had concluded I had any fixed ideas on the classification of these three species and their relationship. It has a problem which has long been on my mind. What happened recently (Nov.1998) is that I was offered the use of a time-share apartment at Jeffrey’s Bay, near the mouth of the Gamtoos River. I used this opportunity to spend six days in the field testing my hypothesis concerning the species Haworthia cymbiformis, Haworthia cooperi and Haworthia gracilis, and this is what I would like to record.  Subsequent to that trip (Mar.1999) I planned and executed an excursion through the Baviaanskloof to Grahamstown and Stutterheim in March 1999, and repeated the exploration in Sept. and Oct, 1999.

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Volume 1, Chapter 2:- Haworthia mucronata and its new variety.

A new variety, Haworthia mucronata var. rooibergensis is described in Haworthiad 13:5 (1999).  It raises many questions, and leaves as many unanswered.

What do the authors, Esterhuizen and Battista, mean by Haworthia mucronata?.  A very curious picture emerges.  There are two sources which must be considered recent and hopefully authoritative.  These are C.L.Scott, and M.B.Bayer.  Bayer does not use the name mucronata and therefore Scott must be presumed to be the authority followed.  But Scott regards H. habdomadis as a separate species whereas Esterhuizen and Battista treat it as a variety of H. mucronata.  The two authors also say that their new variety, where it occurs east of Vanwyksdorp (and presumably also their mention of its occurrence south of Calitzdorp), is on the southern boundary of the H. mucronata complex.  Who do they follow?  If they are using Scott (or Von Poellnitz for that matter) they seem to have mistaken the given distribution.  Scott’s distribution map gives five points for H. mucronata which must by south of Vanwyksdorp, and one of these is even west of Mossel Bay.  There are also two points north and east of Queenstown.

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Volume 1, Chapter 3:- The case of Haworthia incurvula V.Poelln. – an up-date.

This article was first published in Aloe 36:34, (1999) and is now rewritten in part to accommodate some new collections and a conclusion modified accordingly.

The problem:-
Von Poellnitz described Haworthia incurvula (Feddes Repertorium 31:85, 1932), from specimens ostensibly from Grahamstown, sent to him by Mrs. E. Ferguson.  The important elements of the description are.. “leaves about 40, barely 20mm long, up to 12mm wide, broad ovate-oblong, without teeth, hairs or spines, on the face almost flat and inconspicuously turgid towards the apex, on the back convex and towards the apex with a rounded keel, very rarely inconspicuously double keeled, pale green and traversed by greenish longitudinal lines, which are somewhat anastomosing, some of which reach the pellucid tip, which is by no means abruptly pellucid”.  Von Poellnitz (Fed.Repert. 41:203, 1937) acknowledges that this is the plant illustrated in Flowering Plants of Southern Africa 9:t356 (1929), which is there identified there as H. cymbiformis var. planifolia (Haw.)Baker.  Again (Fed. Repert.44:233, 1938) he acknowledges the illustration given by J.R.Brown (Desert Plant Life 8:45, 1936).  Here he gives.. “the exact locality is Pluto’s Vale in Albany district, between rocks and bushes”, citing R.A.Dyer as the source (Botanical Survey of South Africa, Memoir 17:98, 1937).  Von Poellnitz adds here that.. “in vigorous cultivated plants the leaves are less incurved or almost not at all”.  He was uncertain what its affinities were and placed it in the section Muticae.  However, it should be noted that Von Poellnitz placed the synonymous H. planifolia (Obtusatae) and H. cymbiformis (Planifoliae) in different sections too.  This was despite his confession and obvious in his writing, that he did not know the difference between them.

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Volume 1, Chapter 4:- Haworthia cooperi and Haworthia bolusii var. blackbeardiana.

One of the greatest difficulties in Haworthia is that of trying to recognise discrete species.  This translates into confusion which can be attributed to writers.  The initial source of confusion is without doubt the nature of the plants themselves, and this is not a problem confined to Haworthia.  The species are often not easily recognisable and discrete entities.  I abhor the statement that the genus is in a state of active evolution, but this does at least seem to convey a message that readers understand, even if it is somewhat hackneyed.  My observations on Haworthia are based on a definition of species as a system of living organisms which are continuous in time and space.  In my New Haworthia Handbook, I suggested that a primary problem lay in separating H. bolusii  and H. cooperi, and for the purposes of that work I largely discounted the secondary problems.  My first concern was to identify core areas and names as working postulates.  This did not mean I was unaware of lesser problems contained within the recognition of those two species.  The purpose of this paper is to present my current understanding of the problem.

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Volume 1, Chapter 5:- The Haworthias of Kaboega.

M B Bayer, 16 Hope Str., 8000 Cape Town.
Ian Ritchie, Box 44, 5850 Somerset East.

Kaboega (also spelt Kabouga) is now an assemblage of farms (De Plaat, Wilgerfontein, Vygeboomfontein, Klipfontein) nestled against the north slopes of the Zuurberg mountains, north of Kirkwood.  It is only about 15km away from Kirkwood as the crow flies, but 150km away by road.  Oudekraal is about 20km east and it is the source of Haworthia angustifolia var. baylissii and Gasteria baylissiana.  There are several records of Haworthia for the Kirkwood area, and von Poellnitz named H. stiemiei (Regarded as insufficiently known and not recognised by Col C.L. Scott or myself) from there.  He also identified plants from Kaboega and Uyepoort, both described as “at Kirkwood”) as H. altilinea var. denticulata (Haw.) V. Poelln.  These plants are all in the melange that I attribute to H. cooperi var. gordoniana (the subject of another long essay).  The Kaboega farm lies on the Kaboega river which drains an area of about 1m ha and then flows through the long Kaboegapoort into the Sundays River just north-west of Kirkwood.  The terrain is very broken with the sandstone Zuurbergs themselves dominating the southern boundary at about 850 to 950m above sea level.  The lowest point on the farm is at about 300m and the northern lesser shale or dolerite peaks reach 550 to 650m.  The vegetation on the sandstones is Dry Mountain Fynbos.  North of this is Karoo Valley Bushveld.  Thus Kaboega is at an ecotone of the karoid veld, Eastern Cape grassland and the Noorsveld (Euphorbia thicket) of the Jansenville area.

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Volume 1, Chapter 6:- Summation – and a new solution?

The five papers in this book represent analyses and discussion of a large number of collections revolving principally around the problems of the Eastern Cape Haworthia species.  The paper regarding H. mucronata does provide some insight into the overall problem.  The citations by Von Poellnitz for varieties of H. altilinea and H. mucronata indicate just how difficult it is to differentiate between species such as H. bolusii and H. mucronata, from their respective geographic locations.  In the case of H. cymbiformis var. incurvula; then in the case of H. cooperi, H. bolusii var. blackbeardiana, H. aristata and H. decipiens var. pringlei; then H. cooperi, H. gracilis and H. cymbiformis; and finally in the case of Kaboega; it is evident that a better solution can be sought.

During the course of the analyses, it became evident to me that a gracilis-like element is present in every one of the cases.  It is less evident in the case of H. mucronata, because I have not presented the data and also because I have not collected sufficiently either.  Certainly H. mucronata is closely allied to cooperi, cymbiformis, blackbeardiana and to decipiens.  However, it is also very closely intertwined in H. arachnoidea and a lot more field observations are required to determine what its archetypal kinships may be.  They may be the same as for cooperi and cymbiformis.  Regardless whether or not this is so, the question still arises:- If gracilis is the archetype for so many species  which the evidence leads me to suggest it is, what then is this element I call gracilis?

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