The problems of species classification of Haworthia should now be well known to all enthusiasts of this interesting genus. I have proposed and maintained, with cosmetic changes, a nomenclatural system for it since 1975. It is a system with which I have managed an extensive collection and herbarium record, and I know it works within the limitations imposed by the evident fractal nature of “species” and their variability. In this paper I would like to expose these limitations with respect to the concept of two species viz. Haworthia mirabilis, and Haworthia maraisii, where there may be only one. (In the original hardcopy publication of this article, the illustrations are all captioned H. maraisii when it would have been sensible to have used H. mirabilis).
In most discussions concerning the classification of Haworthia, participants have suggested that there are too many species and that some of them should be “lumped”. On the other hand, there have been several writers who, as prospective taxonomists and experts on the group, continue to expand the range of entities at the formal rank of species and varieties despite all the evidence and indications that this could be an endless path leading nowhere. My own inclinations have been to minimize the number of species and to use varietal rank in two ways as a communication medium. One is that I have tended to reject varieties of older authors which I did not think had a strong enough geographical base, but also recognizing that there is nevertheless some information inherent in such names. Often I felt these varieties simply expressed the variability in a way that was insignificant with respect to the species as a whole. Two, is that I have described some new varieties to provide names for morphological variation that I consider is new and previously unrecognized, accepting that these names should perhaps not be immortalized either. Thus my proviso has been that these new varietal names should not be taken too seriously. As far as the number of species is concerned, I know full well that there could be fewer species. I get caught up in the problem of identifying a “species” in a strict botanical definition of the word, as opposed to the need for “names” as a way of simple communication about the plants in the amateur fraternity. Because of the problem of similarity and continuity, the elimination of names becomes similar to that of falling dominoes and the question then arises of “where does it end?” My classification should not be confused with a system of names intended for horticulture or for trade. But neither do I think such a system should adulterate a formal botanical one.
Therefore, underpinning this presentation is a definition of a species as dynamic systems of living organisms morphologically, genetically and even behaviorally, continuous in space and time.
I have several times been rather taken aback when botanists have been among those who have derided the fact that I have not apparently looked to flowers as a source of characters for identification of Haworthia species. Others have intimated that there are diagnostic characters in the seeds and even in the capsule structure. The essence of this kind of complaint is that there are these definable units called ‘species’ and that there is some linear and dichotomous set of characters by which they can be separated. The perception remains alive for the technology of surface structure, pollen sculpturing, DNA and molecular structure, and expectations which flow from and for these real and presumed character sources.
My opinion is that these techniques or methodologies will not tell us much more for Haworthia than what can be deduced by common-sense scrutiny of the plants. They may be extremely exciting and enlightening in view of broader relationships and theories of origin and migration even of vegetation. But their value to the collector and grower will always be minimal.
This essay was published in Alsterworthia International Special Issue No. 4.
My fascination with Haworthia has presented me with many problems in the way the genera in the Alooideae have been discussed, appraised and modified in and subsequent to G.D.Rowley’s analysis (1967). Parr (1971) coalesced Astroloba, Haworthia and Poellnitzia and I refuted this in 1972 when I also wrote a rebuttal of Rowley’s paper. My remarks did not deter Mrs Obermeyer-Mauve (1973) following and accepting Parr, nor in adding Chortolirion to Haworthia. Rowley (1976) quite pragmatically discussed the Aloid genera, but in 1980 suggested the incorporation of Poellnitzia in Aloe. He implemented this proposal in 1981 and promoted it again in 1985. Smith and van Wyk (1991) published a cladistic analysis of the Alooideae which I felt was unacceptable because of the fallacious character states and sets that were used there. Despite that paper and at least four others (Smith 1991, 1994, 1995; Smith & van Wyk 1992) generally supporting the uni-specific status of Poellnitzia, Manning and Smith (2000) incorporated the genus in Astroloba.
This essay was published in Alsterworthia International in a special issue No.3, June 2003.
This is a two-part essay. The first is to discuss a problem in the small Madagascan Aloe species, and the second to discuss Poellnitzia. The latter is now be listed in the genera of Southern African plants as Astroloba rubriflora. I think it is necessary to point out that while this may now be perceived to be ‘authoritative’, the taxonomic treatments are in fact not so.
In 1943 Dr J. Luckhoff, who was better known as a collector of stapeliads, wrote up some observational and collecting records of Mr M Otzen after whom Haworthia otzenii was named. Most of these records have been followed up at one time or another and we know what most of the plants and populations were that he recorded. However, there is one particular item that remains a mystery. One of Otzen’s records reads like this:
”About six miles north of the six or seven houses forming Infanta there is a large salt-pan on your right … Four miles further south follow a narrow track on your right, which ends on a bluff on the foreland called Cape Infanta. On the southern slope towards the sea a very small Haworthia, almost black, with longer, narrower leaves than H. retusa, very scarce, and very difficult to find”.
(Published in Haworthiad 18:3:102-106, 2004)
The systematics of Haworthia and the production of a practical and useable list of names that reflects a predictive classification for these plants, has kept me preoccupied for more than 40 years. Initially I simply produced a list of names published in 1976 as “Haworthia Handbook”. This was not a great work but there was a desperate need then for some kind of conspectus that established order where there was none. I rewrote the Handbook published in 1982 as “The new Haworthia Handbook”. This was followed by C.L.Scott’s “The genus Haworthia, A taxonomic Revision” (1985), which effectively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In 1996 I was asked to produce a synopsis of Haworthia for two projects, and Steven Hammer and Kobus Venter persuaded me to formerly revise the genus. It should be explained that the greatest obstacle to such a work was the very difficult question of the validity and priority of names as required by an international code for plant nomenclature that sets out to standardize and lay down norms for this process of typification. The problem in Haworthia is that the illustrations and specimens on which the process is based, were and are, so confounded. Either there were no specimens at all, or the basis of the names existed only as barely identifiable illustrations. An additional difficulty is that specimens from different species so often resemble each other, that unless locality data was available, there was often no certainty to what the name actually applied to. Thus most of the available types were ambiguous and subject to alternative interpretations. This is a self-evident truth. The overriding consideration was to give meaning to the names in terms of biology and to give an objective reality to the different kinds of Haworthias that are the basic units of biological diversity i.e. species. This latter objective seems very mundane and straightforward and it is extraordinary to now recognize what a minefield of discussion, dispute and argumentation is appearing in the literature concerning the subject.
Classification of plants is often controversial and it is common to suggest that further research and application of technology will resolve problems. This paper overviews six publications in peer reviewed botanical journals with respect to the classification of Asphodelaceae: Alooideae and particularly Haworthia. It demonstrates that there is a gulf between the results produced by researchers using sophisticated technology and the practical, ordinary observations of the layman. This may be because researchers are not familiarizing themselves with grassroots information and observation, which is observation of the plants in the field, in cultivation, in the herbarium and in the literature. Their results may thus be contrary to the experience of the layman who may in fact be better informed.
(assisted by R.D.Kent and S.A.Hammer)
Let me not detract one iota from an exceptional and remarkable compilation of descriptions. There is no need for me to go through the book in detail because in respect of it being a compilation, it is outstanding.
What concerns me is what it portends and what it holds for the future of Haworthia. The book follows a Vol.1, which was reviewed in my book “Thoughts on Haworthia” (Spiderwalk, 1999). It is quite clear to me that Ingo Breuer is in a sense re-inventing the wheel. There is very little information in the book new to me and most of the work was available to Smith in 1947 and certainly to me in 1976. A prime problem I thus have with the work is that it is so firmly rooted in the past. It is thus a threat to the present and holds no promise for the future. The work does present problems, and portends disaster.
Some of the implicit interpretations in this work are possibly just as dubious as some of mine and often more so. I see little purpose in generating change for so small a result. I find the foreword by Prof.G.F.Smith disturbing. It demonstrates some of the malaise I describe in other chapters. Smith’s foreword ranks with a similar foreword to Breuer’s Vol 1. by Prof. Ihlenfeldt which I commented on in “Thoughts on Haworthia”. I have said from extensive experience with many genera, that Haworthia does not offer any challenges which are not extant in other genera. It is my indictment of taxonomic botany that taxonomists are not better acquainted with natural diversity and the complex reticulate relationships of species.
Published in Haworthiad 13:119 (1999). At last a reasonably rational review which is written with some insight and understanding. It makes points which lead to communication and hence discussion. The then Editor of Haworthiad in relaying his feelings and that of his readers has criticised me many times for what is said to be my intolerance of the views of others. I want to set this record straight. I am intolerant of anything which stultifies and paralyses the understanding of Haworthia and distorts communication about it. I had written to Paul before I heard he was preparing this review, and then I was thrown into a bit of a quandary. I do have enormous respect for people and it is not my wish to hurt anyone’s feelings. Paul is no doubt at all an excellent botanist and a human being of a high order. Unfortunately, I do not think his review is particularly good as it is couched in the paradigm of the orthodox and the conventional. I hoped for more, as I sense the complacence and almost smug security of the professional herbarium botanist who’s highly descriptive revisions will be held in awe by, and never ever tested in the crucible of, popular interest. There are many very positive things in the review, and in concentrating on the negative I really feel that progress is possible.
I read a review of the book “Rock of Ages” authored by Stephen Jay Gould, by D. Bristow-Bovey (Sunday Independent, 27th May, 2001). Because the review left me feeling paltry and empty as a scientist, and defrauded, ignored or forgotten as a seeker, I acquired the book to find out what Gould actually had to say. Gould is a seminal figure in the popular literature of biology where I browse, and I look to him to interpret science and its progress. But this book with a subtitle “Science and religion in the fullness of life” seems to fail the subject, and me, completely.
I would have thought that the appearance of books like Aldous Huxley’s – “The Doors of Perception” (describing the effects of drugs on awareness), Fritjof Capra’s “The Turning Point”, Bentov’s “Stalking the Wild Pendulum”, Gary Zukav’s “The Seat of the Soul”, Shirley Mc Clean’s “Dancing in the Light”, Lyall Watsons books, as well as so many, many others; would have at the least indicated that mankind was on the threshold of a new age. There is a vast literature on the subject of new age philosophy and predictions of change. Where can science be in all this?
(This article appeared largely as follows in Haworthiad, and is reproduced here on account of Charles Craib’s comments included in the following Chapter 30).
I often wonder why I have written and still continue to write about Haworthia. The plants have had a special fascination for me since childhood, but it is not that I really enjoy these plants more than I do many others. The interest for me lay in the problem of identification and naming and I was continually asking where a particular plant seen illustrated or growing came from and what was it and why did the names seem to differ. As an entomologist I came to question all these names and their meaning, and to wonder about the classification. After all, it is the names that we use as individuals or as groups of people to grow, collect and communicate about the plants we interest us. So classification and names are just as basic and fundamental to us as a group of hobbyists as they are to botanists pursuing academic and intellectual truths. The history of Haworthia was clouded with conflict before I started writing and the pattern has continued despite what history should have taught us. I have personally made my best effort to generate a stable and sensible set of names for a community that I would like to be part of. This community I wanted to encompass was that of the ordinary collector, the more dedicated collector, the horticulturist, the commercial grower, herbarium and field botanists, and conservationists.
Introduction: This essay is inspired by the chapter, of “Taxonomy and the sociology of botanical knowledge” written by Charles Craib in his book “Grass Aloes in the South African veld” (Umdaus, 2005). That particular chapter was written purportedly to explain why he prefers the taxonomic revision of Reynolds (1950) to that of Glen and Hardy (2000). Craib states that Reynolds provides “… a better reflection of the infrageneric taxonomy of the group”, and also better suited to “elucidation of processes concerning the autecology of the SA grass aloes”.
Craib maintains that… “The classification used by Glen and Hardy takes its place in the knowledge production process as a more abstract model than that proposed by Reynolds”. However, Craib states that abstraction is a trend “…in the development of SA botanical knowledge and that such trends can be expected in the history of this development”. He maintains that the discipline of a “sociology of knowledge” is essential for understanding how classification systems work as they do, and also useful in accounting for the regular revision of plant genera and changes in plant names. I would like to ask if this argument is true for Haworthia and can it in any way explain the remarkable plurality of names that exist there and being added to exponentially.
In my opinion, Craib’s views are extremely relevant. Not necessarily because they clarify the problem so much as demonstrate that there is indeed a problem. Many of Craib’s assertions need to be questioned if the acquisition of knowledge is really the motive for writing and reading. I am truly seeking closure on the whole issue of why I ever wrote about Haworthia and still do.
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.
Since the publication of Haworthia Revisited (Umdaus 1999) I have written Haworthia Update Vol.1 (Umdaus 2002), and Haworthia Update Vol.2 is now in press. It has some 700 pictures and several maps and focuses largely on the vexing question of how we classify and name the plants in the social environment we have created.
In one chapter I demonstrate how difficult it is to distinguish H. mirabilis and H. maraisii and admit that I can no longer see that distinction. In this article I want to illustrate a population which shows that my problem is not limited to those two names. This is about a population on the farm Klippoort that is at the extreme southeast of the Worcester/Robertson Karoo. It is south of the Riviersonderend River just before the confluence with the bigger Breede River. The Riviersonderend runs south of the range of mountains which effectively forms the northern boundary to the distribution of H. mirabilis. East of Stormsvlei, the river cuts through the tail of the mountain range and turns northeast to link up with the Breede River. The confluence lies just south of the Bonnievale/Drew/Mardouw area which is populated by a dense array of variants of H. maraisii and H. heidelbergensis that cannot confidently be regarded as two different species either.
I have given my record a new number MBB7513, because I do not think I ever made a formal record. I am not even certain when I first saw the plants there at Klipfontein but I do know that I was again there in 1996. I was familiar with plants in the nearby area which I had no doubt were H. maraisii and remembered the Klippoort plants as small with rather erect incurving leaves. In October 2005 Kobus Venter, my wife Daphne and I were in the area and saw a Drosanthemum which I knew was important to Dr H. Hartmann. To show her these plants in February 2006 I had to get permission from a new landowner and this led to a curious exchange with the original owners (Mr and Mrs Urschel) who had retained the main part of Klipfontein. To demonstrate the significance of the area and to fuel her interest, I thought I would show Mrs Urschel H. maraisii on the part of the farm they had retained.
Dr Canio Vosa in Caryologia 57:4, 395-399 (2004) hypothesizes two superspecies for the subgenus Haworthia. He cites my published works including Haworthia Update Vol 1 (2002). It is not clear if he has considered all the species that I recognize, or considered that if there are superspecies there may ipso facto be ‘inferiorspecies” too. It is also not entirely clear that he as followed my argumentation. He writes…” the morphological characters, as used for species definition of the taxa in question, do not give a clear indication of true discontinuity over their geographical range which in some case(s) is rather restricted”. As early as 1972 I pointed out that there were fewer species rather than more, and most of my works have featured some kind of statement on the problem of identifying any discontinuities, other than geographic that suggest a realistic concept of species as systems.