South Africa – November 2000

Sunsetting on Shamwari hills.

My 3rd trip to the Port Elizabeth – Grahamstown area in 2000 started with a visit to Hannelie van der Merwe and her Shamwari Succulents.

Some Shamwari Succulents

ShamwariMost people go to Shamwari to view the game or relax in luxury. I went hunting succulent plants. The Shamwari Game Reserve is located at the western end of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown just northeast of the N2 and N10 junction, an easy hour’s drive from the Port Elizabeth airport. The reserve is quite large at 45,000 acres or some 70 square miles.

I met Hannelie van der Merwe first through email after having posted a notice on one of the on-line plant discussion groups asking for suggestions on places to stay in the Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown area. Hannelie sent me an email and introduced herself andtold me all about where she lives and works, Shamwari. Hannelie is a conservation wildlife assistant for Shamwari’s student wildlife management and education program. In August 2000 I made my way back to South Africa and met Hannelie at Shamwari, she wanted to show me her Shamwari Haworthia! Then in November I visited Hannelie again, this time to look at another Haworthia that she had recently discovered.

So far we’ve botanized four sites in the reserve. In August we took a walk along a dry section of Bushman’s River and up a ridge to find Haworthia coarctata, next we drove to an exposed bank to find Aloe humilis and Faucaria felina. Then in November we went in search of Haworthia cooperi at two sites, one near a water hole, the second high up on a ridge with a wonderful view of the savannah below.

I’m very fortunate to have made such a good friend, very few Shamwari guests get to walk around the reserve.

Haworthia coarctata is a beautiful plant. It is surprising that it’s not found more often in gardens as it can spread slowly and makes nice mats. The name coarctata means ‘leaves pressed together’. This species is found west of the Fish River north of Grahamstown over to near Port Elizabeth. It is often confused with Haworthia reinwardtii which is found further to the east. Coarctata leaves tend to be thicker and less densely packed around the stem. Both species have tubercles on the leaf surfaces. Reinwardtii tubercles tend to be larger, flatter, and whiter than coarctata’s.There is a lot of variation between populations and habitats. Plants from near Salem have many more tubercles. Plants near Howiesonspoort have almost none. Plants in full sun get red and purplish, while plants in deep shade remain green as can be seen here.

Notice the Sansevieria next to the coarctata in the fourth picture below, another interesting Shamwari succulent.
Red in the open. Green under brush

Note the heavier dots Greener

Amongst the numerous genera of the Mesembryanthemum the Faucaria are distinctive and easily recognized. The name Faucaria comes from the Latin faux, meaning ‘jaw’, and faucaria means a collection of jaws. With a little imagination the toothed edges of the opposing leaves give the appearance of an animal’s open jaws. Faucaria felina is one of six varieties and is wide spread in the western parts of Eastern Cape, distributed between Oudtshoorn, Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Bedford, Grahamstown, and Port Elizabeth. They are found in open Grassland, Karoo and Valley Bushveld vegetation, in generally flat terrain, on north facing foothills, in gravel and sand between stones on slopes.

Faucari var. felina Faucaria var. felina

Aloe humilis is a dwarf aloe widely distributed from Mossel Bay in the west to near Grahamstown in the east, and north to Somerset East and Graff-Reinet. This small aloe is stemless, usually forming clusters with two or three rosettes, and occasionally dense clusters up to 500 mm wide. The leaves are grey-green and up to 100 mm long and 15 mm wide. Both surfaces have soft white spines. The flowers are rather large compared to the size of the plant, and are scarlet or sometimes orange or yellow. Flowering occurs in August and September. The name humilis means ‘low growing’.The plants are found scattered about in small numbers, never in large dense groups as do many other aloe. They grow on flat stony or sandy area or on gentle slopes. They are not easy to spot unless in flower.Despite its wide distribution the species in considered vulnerable due to habitat degradation as a result of over grazing. This species, when not in flower is easily confused with Aloe longistyla which shares about the same geographical distribution. The scientific name longistyla refers to the long style which protrude from the mouth of the flower.

Aloe humilis Aloe humilis Aloe humilis

Haworthia cooperi forma pilifera is a cryptic beauty. It is endemic to the Eastern Cape Province, where it grows mainly in short grassland and is sometimes found in open Acacia savanna. In exposed aspects and in dry times of the year the plant pulls itself into the ground, sometime completely hiding itself. Then after the rains come the leaves will plump up and show themselves. These plants are almost impossible to find when not in flower. There are a number of varieties of cooperi; forma cooperi has longer pointed tip leaves, pilifera tend to have round or even flat leaf ends, while forma leightonii forms dense mats, its deeply purplish leaves are long and thin, and forma venusta has coarse white hairs covering its leaves. Cooperi are named for Thomas Cooper, pilifera means ‘with hairs’, referring to a pronounced point on the end of the leaf. Although the plants illustrated here don’t show the leaf hair we did see plants with this characteristic. Plants exposed to direct sun light, like these are, have withered necrotic or truncate leaf tips. The new leaves at the center of the rosette will display the leaf tip hair until the dry times come. Look closely at the pictures and you’ll see some of the hairs.

Cooperi Cooperi

Cooperi Cooperi

Given the size and the different ecosystems at Shamwari other Haworthia are likely present; cymbiformis and angustifolia for example.

Nearby is Amakhala Game Reserve and The Cottage at Reed Valley, my favorite place to stay when I’m in the Shamwari area. Rod and Tracy Weeks are great hosts.
The Cottage @ Reed Valley

I made a second visit to Swartwaterpoort. This is such a magical place, maybe a kilometer from end to end you could spend weeks there and not see all of it. The climbing is a bit rough.

Swartwaterpoort Looking south

Transkei grasshopper

Posted in Haworthia, Travelog | Leave a comment

South Africa – October 2000

Grahamstown Mile Marker

Second trip to PE – Grahamstown area in 2000.

Met Tony Dold and David Cumming at the Pig and Whistle in Bathurst where we had coffee and made a plan for the day. Tony wanted to head toward East London to photograph some non Haworthia. David was ready to guide or follow along. So we went to Tony’s new site while David and I planned to spend the afternoon at a few cymbiformis sites in the Port Alfred area.

Kiwane is west of East London on the coast. Here we found Haworthia cooperi var. leightonii growing in the hot sun in baked mud flats

H. cooperi v. leightonii Growing fully exposed

Notice the red lines Kiwani slabs

Along the way we stopped at Chalumna, west of East London to see Haworthia cymbiformis var cymbiformis.

Chalumna Causeway

On our way back west we stopped at an interesting looking rock slade near the Tyolomnqa Bridge and found a tiny and very tooth Haworthia. I was stumped as to which variety.

Tyolomnqa slabs

Later in the day David and I went around the Bathurst area stopping to see Haworthia venusta (a hairy cooperi).

The 'hairy' one Venusta

South of Adelide we found a more typical cooperi in flower.

Cooperi at Koonap River Bridge In flower

Posted in Haworthia, Travelog | Leave a comment

South Africa – August 2000

Overlooking the Overberg

Slept well on the plane ride from JFK to JNB, so well that I woke with a start when the lights first came on for breakfast. My two days at Glaxo Pharmaceutical went well. Students were well prepared and have done brilliant work. Had a nice dinner at a German restaurant with the head man Colin Giltrow. Flight to Port Elizabeth Tuesday night was on time. Maddy Lehmann picked me up at Glaxo at 4pm and drove me to her home which is 10 minutes from the airport. I met her husband Peter and their two children Monica and Daniel. Monica is ready to graduate from high school. Like the Brits the South Africans call this educational stage “Matric” after matriculation. She hopes to go to technicon to study conservation. While at the Lehmann’s home Monica was finishing her maths homework and working on geography maps. She knew on her map right where her mother and I were going.

Maddy brought along a great book – “Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland” edited by A. Barrie Low and A. (Tony) G. Rebelo, ISBN 0-621-17316-9 (C) Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 2nd edition February 1998.

August 9 – Women’s Day (SA public holiday) Reed Valley Cottage – Rodney and Tracy Weeks, cottage built in 1900 as a storage room, later expanded and converted to living quarters. Two very large bedrooms with baths, kitchen, and living room, patios. Had a nice breakfast; good strong coffee, scones, cereal, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, bacon, toast. And a nice conversation with Rod and Tracy.

The Cottage at Reed Valley

Then off to Alicedale Station to meet Tony Dold and on to Swartwaterspoort. Tony is a botanist at the Selmar Schonland Herbarium at Albany Museum in Grahamstown. Not sure that we found the same place Bruce collected at but did find Haworthia cymbiformis and not-so-cymbiformis in the poort. From Alicedale we went north of toward Reibeek Oos on a dirt road that lead through the Swartwatersberg. The northern end of the poort is the most steep and readily accessible. Tony said the area had been turned over to a conservation venture. Did see one Black Eagle, and numerous Vervet Monkeys, and not much other wildlife other than a variety of birds. We had to cross a few stream along the way. Tony was driving an Isuzu bakkie, I was driving a VW Chico. We got to one crossing that was deeper than I was willing to cross. I parked and Maddy and I jumped in Tony’s truck. A km or so further along we parked and right there on the side of the road where the ridge came down we found Haworthia cymbiformis growing on the cliff face in the deep shade. These two are typical of the plants found lower down near the road.

Cymbiformis Classic cymbiformis

We decided to climb up the ridge anyway. Tony was looking for a Faucaria nemorosa, a plant described in a recent Faucaria revision as being from a single locality and lost.

Faucaria nemorosa?

Since I climbed the higher part of the ridge I can upon the Faucarias and didn’t think much of them until I remembered Tony saying he was looking for something.

All along the ridge on the cool side were Haworthia cymbiformis in large numbers, some growing in with the Faucaria. The plants higher up the ridge were different than the ones seen at the bottom. The higher I climbed the plants became less flat, not as dark green, and maybe more like cooperi.

It took about 2 hours to climb up, over, and down the ridge. We then crossed to the west side of the road where I climbed a short way up a smaller ridge and found cymbiformis growing in small clumps in cracks in the shear rock face. These plants had longer, thinner, rounder leaves. Not typical boat shaped cymbiformis.

We then drove northeast up the N10 a short while to near Ripon Station and found bolusii var. blackbeardiana growing in shale.

Then back over the dirt roads through the northern end of the Swartwaterpoort when Tony forded the deep stream and dropped Maddy and I at the car. Then back southward to Alicedale and Paterson and Reed Valley Cottage. Hot shower felt great. Dinner with the Weeks was great. I showed them digital pictures of our day’s adventures which pleased them. We talked about dairy farming, changes in society and economy, wandering the world, families, conservation. What a wonderful young couple.

August 10 Howisonspoort just west of Grahamstown and found Haworthia cymbiformis growing out of reach high up on the cliffs. Luckily was able to find a few plants that had fallen laying on the ground. Albany Museum, met Tony Dold and got introduced to the library and herbarium. Not nearly as many Haworthia sheets as Compton, perhaps 300. Needs reorganizing. C.L.Scott donated his literature, photographs and notes. Of particular interest were the G.G. Smith log books. Had lunch at Spur.

Then headed south to Kenton-on-Sea. Found Haworthia coarctata. Looked for access to Boesmansrivier but din’t get very close so didn’t find any cymbiformis. Saw the ocean, looked like a lot of fun, big dunes, lots of surf. Drive Northwest of Kenton-on-Sea through Hopewell and Southwell.

Met Hannelie van der Merwe for dinner with the Weeks. Interesting lady, she is radically close to mother earth and all her children. Lost power from 7:15 until 10:40pm. Had dinner by candle light.

August 11; Went for a walk with Tracy Weeks and the kids through their farm. Saw various bulbs and shrubby mesembs. Spent from 10:30 till 3:30 with Hannelie on Shamwari. We found Haworthia coarctata in large numbers in a small 150′ by 50′ area on a ridge overlooking the Bushmans River. Plants had fewer spots then plants seen on Thursday. At another location we saw small Aloe humilis in flower along with Faucaria felina. We were very close to elephant, and could smell them, hear them trumpet, and snap branches. Felt nervous taking pictures, good thing Hannelie was watching over us.

On August 12th Trace and Rod Weeks took us for a game drive through a part of the Amakhala Game Reserve, we stopped at the Woodbury Chalets and made a climb up the ridge to find cymbiformis and a beautiful view, overlooking the chalets, waterfall, krantz, zebra, springbok.

Zuurberg Pass – took little six year old Damon Weeks, long and winding road. Haworthia glauca, massive fire, huge numbers of plants, mostly toast, but some with green hearts, a few patches miraculously unscathed.

I stopped at a rocky hillside, a chance to rest from the rattle of the washboard and obstructions of a tiny dirt road. I was hoping to find Haworthia angustifolia. Instead after having traversed the length of the hillside back and forth at three elevations I was turning back when Maddy called out, in a tone of voice I hadn’t heard before, something between wonder and doubt. She had found a Haworthia flower, but hadn’t yet found the plant. I came running. There at the bottom of the flower stalk was Haworthia cooperi. Maddy found her first Haworthia! I’m glad I stopped at this spot and I’m glad Maddy asked to join me on this trip. The cooperi would have been impossible to find had in not been for the flowers and Maddy’s sharp eye.

Posted in Haworthia, Travelog | Leave a comment

South Africa – July 2000

Overlooking the Overberg

It’s Sunday July 2 in Johannesburg, and I’m just off the plane from New York. I’ll spend Monday consulting at an international pharmaceutical company. One of the advantages of my work is that travel is a paid expense. After completeing my work assignment I took a few days of personal time and flew to Cape Town on Tuesday. Bruce and Daphne Bayer were my hosts for the rest of the week. I have visited South Africa 3 times since 1995 and have taken every opportunity to be out in the veld looking for and looking at these wonderful plants. Earlier this year Bruce had challenged me to make a contribution, to stop being a sight seeing tourist, and instead apply myself more seriously. I have accepted the challenge. I want to understand the plain and simple cymbiformis. Bruce’s advice was to make a careful study of cymbiformis on the basis of what is known in collections and literature, and then make a useful study of cymbiformis on the basis of what is not yet known.

So off we went to Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Bruce introduced me to Susette Foster, Jo Beyers, Pascale Chesselet, and Koos Roux. Until then I had never seen or handled herbarium sheets and didn’t know the access protocol. The curators and botanists all knew Bruce, but were very protective and cautious, and rightfully so. Unscrupulous people would use the herbarium records to go commercial field collecting. Without academic or professional credentials I would not have been allowed access to the herbarium records. I returned to Compton on Wednesday and spent from 9am till 2:30pm just reviewing the cymbiformis sheets, I didn’t even look at one other species. It would have taken me all week to review the whole genus. Not that there are that many sheets, perhaps 50 sheets for Cymbiformis and maybe 1000 for the whole genus, but each sheet has a story, each sheet a work of art. It was fascinating seeing sheets pressed by G. G. Smith back in the 40’s. Many with hand drawings of leaf cross sections or flowers. The list of collectors, again just in the cymbiformis include; Miss G. I. Blackbeard, Miss M. Courtenay-Latimer, F.A. Fouche, W. Leighton, G.G. Smith, J. Dekenah, Miss G. Britten, Mrs. Helm, F.R. Long, W.E Armstrong, and on.

Anyway, there are big holes in the collection record, vast geographical areas where cymbiformis should be found. The interactions between cymbiformis, cooperi, gracilis, decipiens, aristata, bolusii var. blackbeardiana, and other species has plenty to be explained and explored. One example of something requiring an explanation Bruce has a collection of Cymbiformis from Swartwaterspoort. There are 5 plants, all of them very different. Many Cymbiformis populations are fairly uniform within the population. Here in the poort we have a very active zone. I’d like to find out what is happening here; hybridization, environmental adaptation, overlapping populations. I want to find this population and then circle around it to find out the other actors. I suspect Cooperi, Gracilis, Bolusii var. blackbeardiana.

The day started very early on Thursday. We had to get up early and get to their son Warwick’s farm in Kuilsriver, some 20+ minutes from Cape Town center by 7:00. So I woke and started getting ready when I heard Bruce get up. Then I checked my watch and saw that it was 4:30! – so I went back to sleep and got back up again at 6:15. The purpose of the trip to son Warwick’s was to pick up a load of garden plants for deliver to a garden center in Robertson. We got to Robertson around 9:30, having cautiously inched our way through great heavy fog banks found on the eastern side of the Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 motorway. This being the Breede River Valley I guess the fogs are a common winter occurrence.

Then off to the south to explore. We found a Haworthia serrata like thing at a farm north of Bredasdorp. We drove up to a farm, found the farmer and introduced ourselves. What wonderful people. The man hopped into his truck and lead us across his farm to the rocky ridge where we hoped to find some plants. And we did find them in the thousands. Serrate being a fairly rare species in cultivation I was surprised at the vast numbers we found. I think the reason it’s not as common in collections as other plants is because the area we were in, called the Overberg is heavily farmed; wheat and sheep mostly, and all but the rock ridges have been plowed. So there are these little natural habitat “islands” that aren’t easy to get to, being in the middle of farms, in a vast farming district. I can only imagine the forms and varieties now long gone having been plowed under. On a similar mission in early 1999 I got myself incredibly lost on the dirt farm roads south of Riversdale. I was pleased this time to be tagging along as Bruce, following no map, went exactly where he planned to go and found something new.

Haworthia serrata Serrata
Serrata Serrata
Then we went to another spot looking for other species but didn’t find much but a few clumps of a mirabilis / serrata thing. The first farmer told us about another farm a few miles away. There we found a young man, perhaps mid twenties running this huge sheep farm. He stopped what he was doing and rode with us in the truck, he and I in the back. He gave Bruce directions and then he and I started chatting. He was amazed than an American would come all this way and be interested in kicking around on his hill side. He came for the walk with us and was happy to see the plants we were looking for. This, his first time ever noticing these plants. Moments later his two younger brothers drove up on a motor bike – our visit being the most exciting thing to happen in weeks! It was school holiday for the next week or two, so the boys were out of school and we were their educational entertainment. We drove on and with a bit of a struggle found a few plants of Haworthia mutica just off the road in a big patch of Aloe Trees. The plants were beautiful, but we could find only one small group of maybe 20 plants. Quite surprisingly, to me were the bunches and bunches of baby plants. Bruce dug up a few and transplanted them in other hopeful places. Maybe they’ll spread.
Haworthia mutica Haworthia mutica

Thursday night we spent in a thatched roofed cottage on De Hoop Nature Reserve. This cottage is built in the classic Cape Dutch style with white washed walls, big tall ceilings. We had a fireplace, but didn’t really need it. The cottage came with full kitchen, pots and plates and all. Towels and a nice hot shower. Two bedrooms with extra blankets and pillows. The main room a combination kitchen, dinning and living room. All for an incredibly reasonable price of close to $35 for the night. De Hoop is southeast of Bredasdorp and right on the ocean. Bruce and Daphne are not ocean people. I was instantly drawn to the huge sand dunes and the smell of the sea but didn’t get to explore either. Next time I come to De Hoop I’m going to walk that beach! As a small consolation right out the front door of the cottage is an estuary with all sorts of ducks and scups and other water birds.

Cottage at De Hoop

We had arrived there around 4pm and after tea went out for a hike returning at 6pm, just at sunset. We went looking for and found Haworthia mirabilis var. calcarea growing in calcrete, a white limestone cement like rock. We didn’t find the plants until we nearly given up and started back for the cottage. Earlier on the walk I had gotten very close to a small group of 8 Cape Mountain Zebra and I also saw several different kinds of bok. I think they were Bontebok and Springbok. The Bontebok is bigger than our North American White Tailed Deer and is mostly black with white markings; face, rump, socks and has long straight horns. The Springbok is smaller and is brown with white and dark brown markings. Really neat to see the animals without cages or fences.

Haworthia mirabilis var. calcarea In the shade
calcarea calcarea

On Friday, after a good nights sleep we drove east looking for more plants. We stopped at one farm near Napier and spoke with the farmer. He was happy to have us look on his hill, but not too interested in what we were doing. The hike was the longest of the two days, not too bad, say 3 or 4 km and only a bit of climbing. It took us forever to find the plants. But when we did we found tons of them. These plants being intermediate Haworthia serrata and mirabilis var. calcarea. The sun light was good and I got some good pictures – I hope.

Then after lunch we went looking at another site, but Bruce was disoriented, things looked different, he wasn’t sure where he was. We went to one hill but found nothing. Then down a dirt road we found a farm house and stopped in. The farmer was very interested, made us a sketch on how to get around his property to the ridge of hills that Bruce had been eyeing from the main road. And off we went. We found Haworthia badia in a new location. I first saw badia in 1995 when Kobus Venter took me to the type location. He made me swear secrecy – I wasn’t to tell anyone that I had even seen the plants in the wild, let alone what town. The 1995 site is in danger from human activity. Also the population is small and all the plants there could be easily collected in an hour or so. Bruce has since found 2 other locations. The one we found today had hundreds and hundreds of plants spread over a long distance. Haworthia badia is no longer in immediate danger of becoming extinct! The plants come in various colors from green to leaf tips tinted orange/red, to all orange/red, to dark milk chocolate almost cordovan colored. Beautiful plants. We then returned to the farm house to say thank you. The farmer and his wife invited us inside for coffee and cake. What a wonderful house, nice and cool inside, very formal, oil paintings on the walls, big grandfather clock, cut glass. The chocolate cake was great. The coffee nice and strong. The Bayer’s and the farmers yakked and yakked about plants and farming and herbs and medicine, and politics. We were there for an hour. A wonderful time. I’m welcomed back anytime!

Haworthia mirabilis var badia badia
badia badia
badia Bruce & Daphne in Badia Land

Then a 2.5 hour drive back to Cape Town and pizza for dinner. I slept a little later than usual on Saturday, until 7am. Later in the morning I went to visit a wonderful plant grower. His name is Etwin Aslander. He is a few years younger than I, married to a wonderful woman and has a beautiful little girl about 3 years old. Etwin grows many different kinds of plants and he grows a lot of Haworthia very well. He works very hard, mostly by himself and is steadily building his business. He ships his plants all over the world and sells plants most of his plants on the web. Perhaps his business is getting bigger than he can handle. People complain that he takes too long to ship but may overlook the health and size of the plants he grows. I took a few pictures and looked at what he had and made some notes. We had tea and talked about people we know and about computers and about working together on a little project. Then in the afternoon I went to Durbanville to meet a friend of Kobus Venter by the name of Emile Heunis. Emil is my age. He has two boys, one 6 the other 10. Emile is a different kind of grower. He runs a Grey Heron Nursery, a cactus and succulent garden center which is less of a commercial enterprise as it is a living art gallery! Unfortunately he doesn’t sell plants by mail order but maybe he will someday soon. He also doesn’t have email, but he does have a computer. Someday soon he will get a new computer and then he will put his plant catalog on the web. He grows his plants very very very well. He has been influenced by his Japanese customers. He will grow trays of seedlings, pick out the 3 best and throw the rest away. I was shocked at how beautiful some of his plants were; beautiful, museum quality, works of art. Emile also likes to talk, and since I like to listen we hit things off. It was getting dark before I knew it. As I was leaving to go back to Cape Town he invited me to stay for supper. So there is this man who just met me for the first time inviting me into his home to sit down with his family. Nothing fancy but very tasty. I was very happy to make a new friend. Before I knew it darkness had come and it was getting late, back to the Bayer’s, then “call it a day” early and off to bed around 9. Sunday came, and off I went into Cape Town to sit at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and contemplate the sea. Then to Kleinbegin Farm to photograph more of Bruce’s collection and another nice dinner with his family.

As quickly as it started my short stay in the Western Cape was over and back I went to Johannesburg and back to work, spending the next week in Midrand and the following week in Bangkok Thailand. My last day in South Africa was spent with Madeleine Lehmann. Maddy and I first exchanged email a year earlier when I had offered Haworthia seed on one of the newsgroups. We spent a good part of the day at Witwatersrand Botanical Garden and hiked the paths up to Roodekrans.

Three weeks away from my girls (and my plants) was almost too much. And would have been had it not been for all of the wonderful people that touched me and the fantastic Haworthia that haunt my dreams. My work assignmnets in South Africa should continue, a week a month for the rest of the year.

Posted in Haworthia, Travelog | Leave a comment

Haworthia as a problem genus

M. Bruce BayerBruce Bayer, PO Box 960, 7579 Kuilsriver.

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.

It has been immensely frustrating to see my ideal so thwarted and to find it so difficult to communicate what I consider to be simple ideas to all the sectors of the community I want to share with. Now at the closing of my life and what career there has been in Haworthia I feel the need to make some final effort. A motivating factor has been the recent publication in the German journal Avonia, of twelve new species and varieties of Haworthia by Ingo Breuer. If I ask what significance this has for the community I perceive out there, I cannot answer the question except to suggest that it may be the commercial value. I cannot see any other sense in it. The field collection has been done by South Africans who are not accredited by Nature Conservation to do the collecting, neither by any institution that supports their activities as far as I have been able to establish. Is it a product of bona fide research and does it justify the tacit support given by individual botanists who are involved in the writing of forewords and introductions? Regarding the classification involved, I throw up my hands in despair because none of these new taxa suggest to me the taxonomic significance that the descriptions or the describer may attach to them. It is quite probable that the collectors have some individual motivation and are not working through local institutions that could thwart their private goals.

Few members of my imaginary community seem to share my concerns. As a writer, editors are the main vehicles for publication and I have expected them to function as a filter to separate the reasonable from the unreasonable. The kind of reaction I receive from them is that everyone is entitled to an opinion and that the reader can make what he/she wills of any classification put before him or her. An editor has also said to me ?I think the “problem” is that most people who like plants that I am addressing with the Journal are just hobbyists. Some are more serious than others. They want a good name, pretty plants, field trip notes, good books to pore over, but not necessarily devour. They don’t want to be confused, to the contrary, most want a hard and fast true answer… as if there is only one or ever will be?. However, I cannot agree. My conclusion from so many years of frustration and intellectual isolation, is that the problems lies in how we have all been led to regard botanical names and their meaning. Readers are already confused and editors are co-responsible. This is what I would like to address in this article.

After describing Haworthia limifolia var gigantea in 1962, I wrote ?Haworthia as a problem genus? in 1970 and that article was published in this Journal. In effect what I said then was that there would never be order unless the species were to be seen as morphologically and geographically distinct entities. I also said that new species and varieties were not discussed adequately in terms of distribution or variability. Among my comments was it would take detailed and intensive coverage of the area before a sample could be taken as representative.

Since I wrote that article there has been a vast volume of water under the bridge and many new writers have come and gone or are still busy gnawing away at the carcase. The taxonomic situation in Haworthia is as confused now as it was in 1970 and before. Why? I think the answer is simple, and sadly so. The roots of taxonomy are in a foundation of shifting sand because a botanical name does not mean the same thing to everyone. As one editor put so succinctly…? There is no doubt that SPECIES should have a meaning, preferably one that is universally accepted so that everyone is on the same level?. Albeit that this conclusion was only reached after a long struggle to get this editor to distinguish between a species description and the definition of the word ?species?.

This is a point that I have been struggling to make for a long time and it has amazed me that botanists talk about different kinds of species, biological species, phylogenetic species, chemical species and many more kinds of kinds. The word ?species? has always meant to me ?life-form?. Most people will agree that it is the basic unit of biology and yet there is this curious and incongruous use of the phrase ?biological species? which suggests that there are species that are not of biology. Can one progress through a university curriculum and postgraduate study to a doctorate and still have no idea of what a species is or might be? My observation is that this is fact.

If botanists have not been able to establish a definition and agree on species definition, it is patently obvious that we have all the ingredients for an unholy mess. If there be any doubt about this, I would refer readers to all the literature on Haworthia, including my own. One botanist remarked that I was being silly insisting on a definition when the subject was one of continuous debate! Classification is largely a non-science. It is simply a descriptive activity ensconced in a web of legislative rules, articles and recommendations of a formal nomenclatural code. Anybody can become and be fully accepted as a taxonomist with absolutely no credentials, on the presentation of a description, a latin synopsis and the citation of a type. If in addition they can quote the clauses and articles of the International Code and throw in some latin phrases here and there, their stature is elevated. There is a whole field of literature which deals purely with the technicalities of the code and has no relation whatsoever to the plant species for which it was fabricated. It is a vast playing field. The tragedy is that there is no protection for the passive observer or interested party who should feel secure in the knowledge that there is logic and reason in the whole process of naming and communicating about plants.

Currently there are two trends in present time to remedy this unfortunate situation. Both are aimed at taking the subject to abstruse intellectual heights that will positively close the door and make it impossible for the uninitiated to participate. The one trend is to rely on the so-called science of cladistics and the other is to enter the realm of the sub-microscopic and analyze the genetic material on which the (still undefined) species rest. Neither trend is to address the underlying problem.

In my opinion cladistics should be seen clearly for what it is. It is multivariate analysis where character states are chosen and modified as subjectively as in conventional methodology to produce a two-dimensional ?tree?. This tree is presumed to be the representation of the evolutionary processes in the plants being discussed. This is the element of time. But in this model the element of space (the branch ends) is restricted to one dimension. DNA methodology is primarily based on examining the sequence of nucleotide bases (amino acids) on a piece of the total protein strands that constitute the chromosomes or cellular protein that drives genetics. It is said that these amino-acid sites represent characters and thus looking at say 1000 sites (?characters?) is immensely superior to the guesses we make when we look at say flower colour or bract shape which we could choose to identify a ?species?. The argument loses sight of the fact that these 1000 sites on a single gene sequence are but a fraction of the genome DNA (Sahtouris writes that the genes probably account for less than 1,5% of any single genome), whereas flower colour or bract shape may be the end-products of the interaction of many genes or of the entire genome. The end model is also only the same two-dimensional one of cladistics.

I have suggested that species follow a pattern that many natural systems do. My suggestion is that species are fractal. This means that they possess or exhibit variability that cannot be explained or plotted in linear or smooth curvilinear fashion. But I also define the word ?species? ? a dynamic system of living organisms in a group or groups of individuals that are morphologically, genetically and behaviorally continuous in space and time. This definition is not proposed as a fairy wand as one critic suggested. It is anything but. It does not make taxonomic decisions easier. It means that there is now a definition and standard in place against which one can question and evaluate species descriptions and taxonomic decisions. We have to see individual plants as members of systems and act on the fact that a name tied to a single dead herbarium specimen is less important than the meaning of the name referring to living forms. More incisively then, it makes it incumbent on the taxonomists to view species as systems in a greater whole of biology. There is a still greater objective and that is to see species as these life forms that give meaning to a creation science otherwise demands that we examine only mechanistically. It would mean that the classification process could be placed back on a proper scientific foundation and exclude individuals who pursue new names for atavistic pleasure, for egocentric and commercial goals, or for particular communities.

My experience has not been limited to Haworthia. I have to say this because inevitably when I meet another taxonomist the attitude is assumed that I am working in a strange and unique field. Also, condescendingly, that I am grubbing around in my own tiny space quite ignorant of the deep thoughts and knowledge of the inner sanctums of science. Generally the genus Haworthia is seen to be taxonomically intractable and largely so simply because it fascinates amateur collectors (and amateur taxonomists). I wish I could demolish this myth for once and for all. It is only intractable because botanists have been so self-satisfied and mollycoddled by lack of peer review in their backroom havens of herbaria that they have seldom really had to face the realities of natural variation. They have worked secure in the knowledge that there is no definition and that under these circumstances one opinion is a good as another. In the general forum of human behavior, someone who comes in from outside with a plucked flower in the hand is almost seen as demonstrating an above natural interest in flora and a flair for botany. With a bit of early encouragement the individual could presumably have been a great botanist. Haworthia is difficult perhaps because it is so well collected and so widely grown.

For a journal editor to say that readers are not interested in the problems of nomenclature and do not want to be confused is a denial and renunciation of responsibility. It is to say that readers are asleep and they should not be awakened; that they have been educated to an untruth and they should be left there. Furthermore, this is any case what we feed them and we have a vested interest in maintaining untruth. There is no general close interest in plants that extends to proper nomenclature. Very few people in the vast mass of society actually have a latin binomial anywhere in their vocabulary. As an oddball who has grown up and lived with such names it has been a constant war to have them seen as keys to knowledge. Instead of respecting this fact, it is common for people to proudly deny knowing the scientific proper names for living things.

Classification and nomenclature has become a laughing stock in society and a subject to be avoided. Unfortunately someone has to take it seriously and give it meaning. I have tried to do this for Haworthia for sincere and honest people who deserve better than the untruth and misinformation that is laid before them on a daily basis. My community has dwindled away to nothing. Where I was myself a lost sheep, I now feel like a shepherd with no flock!

Posted in Bruce Bayer, Haworthia | 3 Comments