Haworthia Updates Vol. 7 – Table of Contents

Haworthia Updates vol. 7


Haworthia Update Volume 7 – Essays on Haworthia by Bruce Bayer

Haworthia Update Volume 7 is now available from Alsterworthia International. For details contact editor Harry Mays at hmays@freenetname.co.uk or by writing to

Harry Mays
Woodsleigh, Moss Lane, St Michaels on Wyre, Preston
PR3 0TY, United Kingdom

Seven chapters in four parts:
Chapter 1 – Haworthia retusa ‘nigra’ – Another grand finale
Chapter 2 – Further exploration in Haworthia. Further to finale
Chapter 3 – A field trip to the Potberg area
Chapter 4 – What is typical Haworthia mutica?
Chapter 5 – Still more Haworthia mutica and Haworthia mirabilis
Chapter 6 – Field trip to Van Reenes Crest and Niekerkshek
Chapter 7 – More on Haworthia mirabilis and H. mutica from east of Bredasdorp, and A rationalization of names in Haworthia, A list of species with new combinations and new synonyms by M.B. Bayer and J.C. Manning.

Bruce Bayer’s Haworthia Update Essays on Haworthia Volume 7 is A4 size, printed on A3 paper, folded and stapled. Part 1. has  63  A4 pages,  Part 2.  83,  Part 3. 57 and  Part 4. 48. The field work is profusely illustrated with plant  photographs, maps and a pie chart. Part 1 has over 330 photos, Part 2 over 280, Part 3 over 330 and Part 4. over 160. Recommended retail price is £45.50  + p & p. It may be ordered from good book sellers.

Volume 7, Chapter 1:- Haworthia retusa ‘nigra’ – Another grand finale.

I wonder.  I have written so many words purporting to be my last that my credibility here too must be under stress.  Two very recent articles of mine in Alsterworthia deal essentially with that issue, although they also cover the discovery of Haworthia mutica (Buffeljags) (= H. groenewaldii Breuer).  They do not cover my subsequent thoughts on actually reading the description of this new “species” by Breuer, Marx and Groenewald.  I hope that the present manuscript will explain why I reject this as a Latin binomial although anyone who is in the least familiar with my writing should already know.  Spurred on by that discovery, I instigated a search in another area of the Buffeljags valley adjoining the Bontebok Park accompanied by Jannie Groenewald who informed me of what he had found in still another area I had long wanted to explore.  So I instigated another search there too and again with Jannie.  A discussion of these new finds is submitted to Cactus and Succulent Journal where I trust it will be published.  The essence is already in Alsterworthia and this article is written to widen the readership, submit more pictures and maintain continuity with the 6 volumes of Haworthia Update that Harry Mays has been so conscientiously and determinedly publishing.  This is all writing that may not otherwise have seen the light of day.  I am personally extremely grateful for that as I have had a mania since writing my revision Haworthia Revisited and Update Vol. 1 (both Umdaus), to set the record straight and explore all the unknowns, or at least some of them.

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Volume 7, Chapter 2:- Further exploration in Haworthia. Further to finale.

The writing of my grand finale was inspired by several things. One of these was another item of a mind-numbing foray into the classification of Haworthia. So I asked that deep thinker and observer, Gerhard Marx, for a devil’s advocate (abbrev. DA) point of view which he has done with the same competence he has as an artist. I have many times in my writing addressed the issue of a species definition and produced one too. Not surprisingly the first thing the DA does is dismiss my definition without producing one of his own. Simply being able to say that an indeterminate number of plants from some population are sufficiently different in respect of a character or two from other haworthias, is motivation enough for the generation of a new name?

The case of H. groenewaldii Breuer, described in an article authored in Alsterworthia 2.2:15-20 by Breuer, Marx and Groenewald is the case in point. It presents the description of this supposed new species from Buffeljags east of Swellendam. The article is written in the first person (Breuer) who quotes extensively from Gerhard’s e-mails, and includes a piece by Jannie Groenewald under the heading “Description of the Vegetation type and distribution”. The overall impression is of an article that conforms to the style of a forgotten era and it is not possible or sensible to attempt a rational dismissal.  Who is actually responsible for the article and how does one correct misleading statements without giving offence?

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Volume 7, Chapter 3:- A field trip to the Potberg area.

These field trips are always made with some objective in mind in respect of new exploration.  In this case I wanted to get more pictures of H. mutica as it is a species that I have few digital images of.  There were also localities that I remembered from the days when I was sweeping the countryside at a fairly coarse scale and was not much bothered by detail.  I confidently expected the number of real species conforming to that in other fields of botany and zoology, to be in the region of 33.  I never dreamed that such divergent views would, or even could, arise from less information than even then available to me.  So while 450 names were whittled down to the mid-hundreds by me, students of the genus have in recent years pushed that up to the 600 mark.  My opinions have been couched in quite conservative terms but it is a problem of the nomenclatural system that an identification in respect of a Latin name evokes a reality that does not exist.  I maintain that the problems we experience in Haworthia are no different to that which exists in many animal and plant genera.  I think that primarily this is because of the absence of insight into, and understanding of, the actual nature of species and the two dimensional model we use to relate them.  Species are very variable systems because they have to be to survive the constantly changing world they occupy.  In this article I am just going to present images of plants within populations of four different species viz. H. variegata, H. minima, H. mirabilis and H. mutica.

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Volume 7, Chapter 4:- What is typical Haworthia mutica?

A supposed new species of Haworthia viz. H.groenewaldii Breuer, is described in an article authored in Alsterworthia 11.2:13-17 by Breuer, Marx and Groenewald.  It presents the description of this supposed new species from Buffeljags east of Swellendam that I would simply have identified as another variant of H. mutica.  This is not because I am confounded by the variability among the plants in the genus, or even in any one species.  I recognize the species as systems of populations in which the individuals vary from one another as one would expect in any group of living things that maintains the flexibility to adapt to constantly changing world conditions.  In this even time becomes a variable.  I think species are very important elements if the whole of creation and not just for taxonomist and collector activity.  Other people have other ideas of what species are, so my disagreement is hopefully forgivable..

Although H. mutica was described by Haworth in 1821 it was not allied to a South African field population until recognized by Col Scott in 1985.  G.G. Smith had failed to recognize it when he described his H. otzenii in 1945.   The type by which the name is supported is a Kew illustration reproduced here as Fig. 1.  This then is what one would expect a typical representative of the species to look alike.  Now the ever present problem in Haworthia, is that no two plants in a population may look quite the same.  Hence my problem with the description in which the word “typical” is rather bandied about.  It falls into the first aspect of taxonomy.

Firstly a plant is illustrated on the front cover of the respective Alsterworthia that, presumably the authors, state is a typical specimen of H. groenewaldii.  Secondly, Marx is quoted as saying that the “typical H. mutica” grows only 20km west at the farm Dankbaar.   Statements like these are used to strengthen and support opinions and generate a reality that Latin binomials sadly lack.  It so happens that I know both these populations quite well and these statements are news to me.   I do not think the specimen on the front cover is by any means typical of the population at Buffeljags, and certainly not at three sites recently discovered nearby.  The plants at Dankbaar also do not in my opinion fully meet the imputed similarity to fig.1.  See fig 2. for an image of a plant representative of the Dankbaar population.  I would be very hesitant to say that this is typical of Dankbaar plants.

There is a curious problem here in that Scott does not use the type illustration in his Revision and does not state any origin of the plant he uses to illustrate the species i.e. H. mutica.  As far as I am aware the type of a synonym that G G Smith described viz. H. otzenii , came from east of Riviersonderend, but this is for an Otzen collection no. 6.  The type was cited by Scott as Otzen 10 but this is not in the Compton herbarium where it should be.  So I am not sure offhand where that came from.  However, this is not really relevant to the discussion.  I just want to state that finding a plant that matches the type is no mean feat and that it was by sheer chance that in 1969 I came across a population of plants at Hasiesdrift that did.  See fig. 4 and 5.  I selected one image and then realized that it did not have round enough leaf tips to meet need, so I selected another.  In the first picture the leaves tend to have a “mucro” – a small point to the leaf that looks different to a well developed end-awn (bristle) that the leaves can also have.

Another issue is that Gerhard Marx once argued with me that the mooted H. groenewaldii was much nearer to H. mirabilis than to H. mutica as I had suggested.  What he luckily is able to ignore is my observation of the similarity of some plants of H. mutica to H. mirabilis see figs 5 and 6.  I never saw a plant quite like fig. 5 in all my exploration at Buffeljags but Jannie Groenewald collected this one there.  Fig. 6 is not typical of the population either and I used this same figure somewhere else in my writing to comment on the similarity to H. mirabilis ‘badia’ variants at Sandfontein (east of the “typical”).  Gerhard is still more fortunate to be able to ignore the similarity of H. mutica to H. retusa see figs 7 and 8.  I even surprised myself when in looking for a suitable picture, from many, I picked this fig. 7 and find it is also Hasiesdrift albeit a cultivated version.  (There is such an interesting story around the Hasiesdrift site).   Fig. 8 is a representive of H. retusa from Pienaarsriver pictures and I feel sure that readers will agree that the names could be switched.  It was very difficult to ignore pictures from Pienaarsriver that I could have used with figs 5 and 6 in the context of H. mirabilis.

It becomes still more interesting (I would have said complicated but my critics maintain that this variation confuses me and it is actually possible to get it all tidy and neat) when one further compares a plant of H. retusa ‘nigra’ ( fig. 9) with both H. mutica (fig. 7); and then H. retusa ‘nigra’ (fig. 10) with H. retusa (fig. 11).  The latter is in fact from the population where the variant ‘geraldii’  originates.

A last point I can make is that the leaf flecks said to characterize “H. groenewaldii” do occur in H. mutica at Klipport (see figs 12 & 13). One cannot simply ignore the extraordinary chain of similarities that extends across the entire distribution area producing only a slightly different situation at either extreme.

Floral difference is a great issue that is misused to force an opinion.  The flower is extremely difficult to study because the differences across the entire subgenus are so small.  There are complications where, as an example, flowers of H. pulchella ‘globifera’ are indistinguishable from those of H. cymbifomis var. incurvula.  In the subg. Hexangulares there is an incredible problem where floral differences within species exceeds that between species e.g. a flower of a plant of H. limifolia may more closely resemble that of H. coarctata rather than that of another plant of H. limifolia.  It is easy to draw conclusions from small samples of a few flowers from a few populations but one very soon finds that with increasing sample size the most carefully constructed table of differences becomes senseless.  Just when is an ever-aging flower on a stalk at the precise same stage of a flower you want to compare it with?  How many flowers from how many plants are needed to make a valid statement?  Do not forget that the observations must be made on plants on the basis of random selection too.  This is a requirement mostly totally ignored when the more serious question of a species difference is being debated.  That of course brings us back to this casual use of the word “typical” and its intractability.

The hardest problem to deal with is that of flowering time and on the face of it a winter flowering time versus a summer flowering time can be taken to suggest significant difference.  Yet if one considers that a species needs to harbour genetic variation to ensure adaptation to any kind of environmental change and so survival, a different flowering time may be an extremely useful resource.  Then we do have the reality of hybrids between species that do flower at these different times.  So obviously and self-evidently populations of species may exist that has arisen from such hybridization between plants that flower at different seasons.  The capacity of plants and animals to synchronize breeding periodicity is well-known.

I close with my observation that H. mutica is an assorted group of plants that seem to fall in some middle zone between H. mirabilis and H. retusa.  Hence in the west we have H. mirabilis/ H. mutica/H. retusa ‘nigra’, while in the east we have H. pygmaea (=H. mirabilis+H.retusa ‘retusa’) and H. retusa ‘turgida’.  In the area between there is vast variation of H. mirabilis and H. retusa that get a bit of H. floribunda thrown in too.

So am I confused, or have I confused you?  As Steven kindly put it…’it’s almost as if you were being blamed for nature’s complexities’.  Of course the ultimate reality is that we each have our own idea of what “species” are, and here I have used my version!

Volume 7, Chapter 5:- Still more Haworthia mutica and Haworthia mirabilis

It so happens.  Heidi Hartmann first visited the Karoo Garden more than 35 years ago and it has been very difficult for me to pay attention both to her mesembs and all my other plant interests.  In the last few years she has been working on Acrodon.  This is a small genus of only 5 to 6 species that occurs in the Southern Cape with much the same distribution and habitat requirements as Haworthia.  She had had some second thoughts on a species she had described as Acrodon calcicola and intimated that she needed photographs to show what proves to be detaching fruits (capsules).  So off we went to get that northeast of Bredasdorp at Rooivlei.  But Nick Helme had about a year before sent me an intriguing picture of a greenish soft looking plant from near the DeHoop Reserve entrance road to the east.  I had considered that it might be an equivalent of the H. muticaXmirabilis population at Die Kop (MBB7500) that Ingo Breuer usefully described as H. hammeri .  I use the name with great trepidation because to say what is correct usage is difficult.  It could pass as a cultivar name, a varietal name or a form name.  I am quite sure it has its origins in the interaction of two species and that is what a botanical name should reflect that; thus H. muticaXmirabilis or however else the nomenclaturists may require.  So these journeys are never without distractions as Rooivlei itself is a remarkable site.  I find that I have few images of the populations of Haworthia that occur there.  The product is nearly all pictures/images.

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Volume 7, Chapter 6:- Field trip to Van Reenens Crest and Niekerkshek.

M B Bayer, PO Box 960, Kuilsriver 7579, RSA.

The objective was to explore some likely habitats previously observed at Van Reenens Crest and nearby.   We extended the scope to include further exploration for Haworthia mutica as I am still questioning the place of this species in the greater scheme of things.  Thus here are four sets of populations that I report on viz. H. mirabilis, H. retusa ‘nigra’, H. floribunda and H. mutica.  See maps Figs 1 and 2 for geographical position.

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Volume 7, Chapter 7:- More on Haworthia mirabilis and H. mutica from east of Bredasdorp.

More on Haworthia mirabilis and H. mutica from east of Bredasdorp.

M B Bayer, PO Box 960, Kuilsriver 7579, RSA

The area concerned is the long and wide contact zone between the Limestone stretching from Bredasdorp to Potberg, and the Bokkeveld shale north of that.  The soils and vegetation of the two areas are grossly different.  The limestones are agriculturally almost useless, while the shales are prime wheat and pasturage producing soils although relatively low yielding.  The vegetation of the shales is Renosterveld and there are very few patches left.  Large areas resemble ecological deserts with nothing of the original surface intact.  Here and there are shale banks and associated quartz outcrops and also some remnants of tertiary deposits that overlie the shale.  Under this deposit layer the shale has decomposed to kaolin and in places there are gravel sheets of fine quartz on white clay.  The skeletal nature of these remnants is the saving grace but it is unbelievable to what lengths farmers must have gone to make fields arable.  Enormous amounts of stone that have been carted away and dumped to make cultivated lands.  Sadly the stone is often dumped on exposed rock and prime Haworthia habitat.  The remnants are still under threat and a mindset that has developed in the road construction and maintenance arena is that roads must be clean and scraped fence to fence.  Similarly there are farmers who want every square inch under control and in subservience to their production needs.  Dense vegetation is abhorred and burnt to control predation of sheep by jackal and lynx.  Vegetation adjoining crops is treated with weedkiller to minimize crop contamination.  Crops are also grown in conjunction with animal production.  When crops are in, the animals are on fallow land and on whatever is left of natural vegetation.   It is the harsh reality of conservation.

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