Haworthia Updates Vol. 6 – Table of Contents


Volume 6, Introduction

It is a matter of considerable concern to me that the lack of “adequatio” for the understanding of Haworthia is so conspicuous by its absence.  Three reviews appeared for 5 small essays published as a supplement to Haworthiad and also as a portion of Haworthia Update Vol. 5.  To suggest that these reviews are anything but some sort of myopia is an understatement and I find it difficult to try and explain why.  My reason is simply that many criticisms simply arise out of the fact that the reviewers are not familiar with my writing and have no basis for assuming that they are up to the task of reviewing what I have written.  Nothing is being learnt from history where the same old arguments about opinions hardly differ from those voiced 60 years ago.

The real issue is that there is confusion in the minds of collectors as the user public, about the uses and application of Latin names in the pursuit of their interests.  Professional botany offers no assistance and any numbers of poorly equipped authors of necessity, invent and re-invent types, the interpretation of names and then their application.  This does nothing to assist the collector.  The reviews of that small segment of my writing do not help either and certainly do not generate a climate that encourages me to write any further.  One review calls for a revision when the message is that a formal revision might just be intellectual vanity when a practical list of names and explanation is presented to add to an existing Revision.  A second review seems to tout a mistaken belief that self fertility and polyploidy may be explanations for the intractable problems that we have in the self-sterile non-polyploid haworthias.  A third review is seemingly facetious comment that may obscure my opinions as those of the reviewer and acceptable as such, but not if seen to be mine.  None of these reviews will be helpful to anyone who may need to decide what set of names makes more sense than another.  There is no common voice and any reader is left to make up his own mind in the absence of any good authority.  Perhaps this is something I should be personally grateful for because there are noises emanating from various sources that my opinions also threaten understanding rather than enhancing it.  I have to accept that it may be difficult for anyone to agree with me who has not had the same exposure to the intractability of biological systems that seems to have been my lot in life.

I regret that I did not, prior to publication, see the forward to Vol. 2 that I hoped would generate “common voice”.  It, unfortunately, is just a bit of personalized chitchat about the writer.  It can hardly generate any confidence in what he may have written about and does not attempt to do so.

My revision in 1996 (published 1999) admits the problems of typification and my attempt to stay within the historically recognized interpretations and applications of names.  A revision is fundamentally a reconciliation of new information and new “collections” and the Update Volumes have been an ongoing reporting of new finds and observations.  More than one reviewer seems to think that a change of mind is indicative of weak argument rather than a product of new and better information.

Update Vol. 1 (2001), published by Umdaus Press includes one essay regarding Haworthia mucronata and five others dealing almost wholly with Haworthia cooperi and its variants.

Subsequent volumes were published by Alsterworthia. Update Vol. 2 appeared in 2006 in two parts comprising a total of 17 chapters and a list of Bayer accessions.  Update Vol. 3 was published in 2007, also in two parts and comprising 15 essays.  Update Vol. 4 was also published in 2007 in one part comprising 10 essays of which two were intended to close the saga.  However, a surge of inquiry and energy made me decide to have a last serious effort to try an answer some outstanding questions in my own mind.  So Update Vol. 5 was published in 2009 and comprises 16 essays.  Perhaps, if nothing else, these essays just demonstrate how much there is out there in the field that has escaped attention.

Update Vol. 6 is simply a small set of essays that address some loose ends of which there are still many. One essay in particular will remain unwritten because, while I have some information, it is not enough to base any conclusions on.  This concerns the area between Oudtshoorn and Uniondale.  It is also not the only gap in my experience and knowledge. The chapters in Update Vol. 2 should demonstrate just how intensively the field has to be explored to get to grips with the possible dynamics of the plants.  This view should be re-enforced by the subsequent volumes.  While I have tried to hold to a belief in “species” and names relevant to some sort of system, it seems to me that as a society we are denied the freedom to really know what the meaning and purpose of creation is.  Science itself seems to insist that there is none and botanists largely view the observance of nomenclatural rules as the primary criterion in the application of names.

My experience and observation now suggest to me that creation is purposeful and meaningful.  Life is manifested in various distinctive forms and these forms are manifested according to their DNA.  This DNA may be the fundamental stuff of consciousness in living things too; flowing from and responsive to the energy fields of physical bodies such as the galaxy and the solar system.  Life on earth is driven by catastrophic events of varying degree and varying intervals, so that species simply represent those sets of living things as they come, change and go with successive events.  We do not only need to consider what species might be and mean, but also when.  Who knows?


Printed edition of Haworthia Update Volume 6 can be obtained from

Harry Mays
Woodsleigh, Moss Lane, St Michaels on Wyre, Preston, PR3 0TY, UK.

Volume 6, Chapter 1:- Haworthia and Chameleons

There is a very curious parallel in the problems and aspects of classification and identification of haworthias and chameleons that I personally find a bit mystifying.  Classification of succulent plants and especially Haworthia is often done outside of mainstream science, which means that it is not done by trained professional botanists, who can stand in the intellectual arena with academics and degreed intellectuals.  It has been pointed out to me that this is the problem in Haworthia and also why professionals do not want to attempt to resolve the issue because the nomenclature has been so confused and complicated by all the bungling that has taken place.  Having been on the fringes, and indeed even failed attempting to cross the bridge into academia, I find it very difficult indeed to reconcile my life experience in the amateur arena with what I encounter from the professional one.  This is because I have observed an ever widening gap between the perceptions of the non-science individual compared to that of the professional. My interest in chameleons is simply another aspect of my interest and passion for living things and I am distressed that the knowledge and understanding of these fascinating animals, as with Haworthia, is so clouded by ignorance and confusion.

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Volume 6, Chapter 2:- Towerlands. Haworthia retusa ‘turgida’

In Haworthia Update 4 I wrote an essay about the haworthias east of Albertinia in which I discussed their relation to H. retusa  and H. mirabilis, while generally lumping them largely in H. pygmaea.  There are of course real ‘turgida’ populations as far east as near Mossel Bay, so I argued the case for an interplay of the two former species that over the whole distribution range generated two ‘species’ in the east viz. H. pygmaea and H. retusa (to include ‘turgida’), and three ‘species’ in the west adding H. mutica to H. mirabilis and H. retusa.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Gregory Nicholson who is studying botany at University, Cape Town.  He surprised me by telling me that there was a Haworthia on his parent’s property west of Herbertsdale.  It was not in fact so much surprising as confirmation of the belief I formed on a trip a short while before that there must be haworthias in the very suitable terrain of the Jakkals River valley 6km west of Herberstdale.  The surprise came when Greg indicated the position of the plants much deeper into the mountains.

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Volume 6, Chapter 3:- Still more about Haworthia on Kaboega

Part 1.
Kaboega is a set of farms on the northeast of the Zuurberg Mountain range, north of Kirkwood and off the Addo National Park. I wrote about the haworthias that occur there in Haworthia Update Vol.1. There is also an article in Aloe 40:10 (2003) in which there is a discussion of the variation of those haworthias as related to geology and topography. My wife and I frequently visit Kaboega to renew relationships with Ian and Sandy Ritchie who live there. Each time we go we try to explore some different area. We generally end-up with something that is notably new.
There is a real problem in trying to reconcile the populations we see with the names that are available and the way in which I have tried to formalize them myself. The problem is that Kaboega seems to occupy some sort of central and neutral position and it is by no means easy to arrive at any clean rational classification. Three of my species are involved, and I have to say they are “mine” because other authors are in strong disagreement. The three species I see are H. cymbiformis, H. cooperi, and H. aristata. It is firstly necessary to explain that I interpret the name H. aristata in Haworthia Revisited quite differently from what I might have done earlier; and quite differently from other authors who have simply taken the easy route and associated the name with Little Karoo elements for which I use the name H. mucronata. My interpretation of the name will be quite evident from my writings and from the pictures submitted with this article. The use of the name H. cymbiformis with respect to Kaboega is a major problem for someone like myself who is firmly convinced that geographical relationships are foremost in the recognition of species as living systems. On Kaboega, plants that look like H. cymbiformis seem to proceed out of a complex that is surely H. cooperi. If one properly considers all the populations that I ascribe to H. aristata one is seriously confronted with the reality that it is also a geographic variant of H. cooperi.

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Volume 6, Chapter 4:- Haworthia emelyae and some of its variants

Where are we?  Geography plays such a critical role in my perception of the species that it is important to try to understand why and how it touches on the issue.  The Langeberg Mountains is a Table Mountain Sandstone about 10km wide and 1500m high running east-west and separating the inland Little Karoo from the Lowland Renosterveld of the southern Cape.  There are five main travel routes through those mountains of which two are via river gorges viz. Cogmanskloof, Tradouw, and then there is also the Gouritz River Gorge where there is no road.  Haworthia is not generally considered a sandstone and high mountain species because, firstly, there are few records to suggest that and, secondly, because they are averse to the higher moisture levels.  However, there are many records in the low and close foothills.  H. retusa ‘turgida’ is recorded in the higher areas and in the vegetation associated with the sandstone viz. the Fynbos.  Fig. 1 is a view taken looking eastwards from Kleindoorn (Kleindoornrivier). This is about 16km east of Barrydale that sits at the northern end of the Tradouw Pass.  The next farm is Brandrivier (B) and beyond that is Springfontein.  Muiskraal is marked with an “M” and this is at the northern end of Garcia Pass from Riversdale to Ladismith.  The “O” marks Oskop which is beyond Zandkraal and about 15km beyond Muiskraal.  Another 10km will take you past Waterval and bring you to Aasvoelvallei at the confluence of the Grootriver with the Gouritz..  The last stretch is another 10km over the Cloete’s Pass to Herbertsdale from where one travels back westward 7km to Towerlands.

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Volume 6, Chapter 5:- Haworthia emelyae ‘major’ and multifolia. New populations.

1a.View from above Onverwacht North Westward to Ladismith

1b. View looking south west over Muiskraal to Garcia Pass


There used to be a regular bus service between Riversdale and Ladismith and J. Dekenah made use of this for his excursions into the Little Karoo to find plants for G.G. Smith.  He thus discovered H. emelyae ‘major’ at the northern mouth of Garcia Pass.  He also submitted a single specimen of a plant collected from the karoid veld a little further north.  It is that record that suggested to me that ‘major’  was linked to H. emelyae further east and north as well as to ‘multifolia’ to the west.  Etwin Aslander found what I regarded as the equivalent of ‘multifolia’  (see figs 2a-i) on a low plateau north of Garcia pass on the farm Muiskraal that is at the foot of the mountains north of Garcia Pass.

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Volume 6, Chapter 6:- Die Nekkies and Biomes and Haworthia maculata.

1. Looking down the north face Die Nekkies east to west

It is always assumed that botanists have a good grip of their subject, as one supposes for the scientists in other disciplines. Any science is the advance of knowledge by observation, hypothesis and testing by systematic enumeration and experiment. This is furthered by replication and review by other scientists.  Botany is far behind the exact sciences, because of the very nature and complexity of living things and systems, and also behind because zoology where animal life is obviously more organized than is the case with plants and where more attention is focused.

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Volume 6, Chapter 7:- Taking Haworthia cooperi further – Kliprivier.

It is very difficult to write about particular plants when one has to contend with the fact that one is not sure what Latin names may mean to the reader.  I wrote a piece with closure in mind and thought I would send it to a non-taxonomist botanist whom I think is a tribute to the profession.  Extracts from his response are “I am an ardent supporter of your species concept and couldn’t agree more strongly with your statement that without variation, there would be no evolution…I do agree that the pervasive species concepts force us to ignore the most interesting and productive research avenue: documenting and understanding variation in the field.”

It is worth considering what he has said about “pervasive species concepts” and just what he might mean when he says they force us to ignore documentation and understanding of variation in the field.  It seems to me that the converse is the truth.  Failure to properly understand and document variation has contributed to the pervasiveness of false concepts which fly in the face of science.  I keep harping away at this question of lack of definition, because it is not apparent to me that any reader appreciates my point of view.  To my mind a key issue is made of nomenclature and the rules that govern it, and very little attention at all is given to whether these Latin names help our understanding at all. I feel that my contribution contributes mostly to documentation of variation and that I cannot do much in respect of understanding.  This short article should explain why.

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Volume 6, Chapter 8:- A fleeting look at Haworthia arachnoidea

How did this start?  Is it possible to see anything with such a quick peek?

Somewhere in my memory bank is my stated opinion that understanding H. arachnoidea would assist any botanist towards a better understanding of classification. This was long before I came to see that this is a lot more necessary than I thought then. It is not just botanists who seem dumbed down to the reality of a diversity that is necessary for response to change and largely denied by the nomenclatural code and how it is practiced.  We have not understood change or what changes can occur.  During perhaps only the last 15 to 20 years has it become apparent that changes are cataclysmic and frequent.  I will skip the fact that the violence of catastrophe, or the drivers of catastrophe, may also induce change at even a cellular level.

I usually go into the field with a specific goal while also carrying a host of peripheral questions in my mind.  While exploring the problem of H. schoemanii, I was thus also thinking of Conophytum.  After photographing a species seen at Laingsburg, I mentioned to Steven Hammer that I had also seen it in the southeastern Tanqua Karoo (Bakoven).  This was news to him and so in my wish to re-establish the reality of H. venosa subsp. granulata recorded at Patasriver (actually Patatsriver road and that is another story that will be told) as well as the Conophytum for Steven, I undertook an expedition to the Tanqua.

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Volume 6, Chapter 9:- Interesting nursery plants

I have become increasingly concerned about the poor relations that exist between collectors and the authority of Nature Conservation.  The argument that collectors threaten and despoil natural populations is very real and I do not dispute at all that Conservation authorities have a very valid complaint. They have a function to perform. On the other hand there is an interaction between human beings and nature in all its forms that should be fostered to the benefit of both sides.

Nurseries, traders and collectors are as much of the picture as are conservationists, institutions, researchers and landowners.  It is unfortunate that there is no non-government party that lobbies for the rights and activities of the former group,  but it is not my intention nor within my competence to argue all the aspects of the case.

I strongly believe that people have the right of access to nature in all its forms and the issue is one of individual responsibility and proper consideration of consequences. An appreciation of and sensitivity to nature should be reflected in whatever we do in our lives. My own collecting impulses led me to institutional employment where I could exercise my interest to what I thought were efforts more worthy than my personal interests.  From that position I also did try to share and extend privileges to a wider circle.  It is  in this way that I became involved with Sheilam Nursery.  It was not my wish or intention that my collection should have come to be housed there. However, Sheilam has succeeded over a period of nearly 40 years to maintain a fairly true record of my collections obtained as propagated material from the Karoo Garden at Worcester.  My offer of permitted collections dating from my revision of Haworthia in 1966 to the Karoo Garden was rejected and for a while resided with Etwin Aslander at Brackenfell.  It has since passed to Garth Schwegman at Sheilam who has taken a particular interest in the maintenance and propagation of that collection.

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Volume 6, Chapter 10:- Non-pilose "pilosa"

When I was at the Karoo Garden I became a bit befuddled by the way botanists referred to the Cape Floral Kingdom.  It seemed to me that they used the term for the vegetation that was on the Table Mountain sandstones and conveniently excluded that which was not.  Thus the “Fynbos” vegetation, characterized by its Ericaceae, Proteaceae and Restionacea, was synonymous with this floral kingdom.  An official document was published at the time which purported to classify the Southern African vegetation into biomes as major floral assemblages with very broad boundaries.  It did not make sense to me because my observations were that the “fynbos”, however different in terms of historical origin, was essentially a flora of the sandstones, and that there was rather a winter rainfall biome which included karoid (Succulent Karoo mainly) flora.  The role of geological substrate and skeletal soils seemed to me to be pivotal as there are places where one can virtually take a single step from one vegetation assemblage into another.

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Volume 6, Chapter 11:- North and Northwest of the Potberg

In an earlier article I described how Haworthia floribunda (at B on map) transmutes eastwards to H. variegata (at A on map) between the localities Klipfontein and Kleinberg, which are north of the Potberg Mountain. This is despite the fact that they both occur in close proximity at the northwestern end of the mountain. Difficulties now arise in the immediate vicinity to the west (at point W) and this extends northwestwards (to points C and D on the map).  While we can confidently ascribe names to floribunda and variegata at those particular sites, the plants to the west and northwest are confounding.  They fall into a no-man’s-land of these two species with H. mirabilis, H. maraisii, H. heidelbergensis and even H. mutica thrown in.

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Volume 6, Chapter 12:- A look at Aloe haworthioides

Aloe haworthioides was described by Baker in 1887, moved to a unispecies genus Aloinella by Lemée in 1939 and then into Lemeea by Heath in 1993.  This was wisely all undone by G. F Smith et al in 1995.  This taxonomic dance is one of those events which probably bring taxonomy into disrepute in the minds of people otherwise respectful of scientific process.

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