South Africa – March 1999

Whipstock Farm

With very little planning I found myself on my way back to South Africa for my third visit. A hole had opened up in my schedule on very short notice. Coincidentally I had been corresponding with Bruce Bayer about a project we had first talked about on my last trip there in 1997. So with a few phone calls and several emails I was off again to spend a couple of weeks with the wonderful people, landscapes, and flora of South Africa. This trip felt differently from the start; less afraid, I now know the way. Take the bus to JFK, check in, grab a bite to eat, exchange a little cash, then wait to get on the evening flight. Avoid alcohol, wear ear plugs, bring a neck rest, take a Melatonin tablet, and get to sleep. Its a long long flight to Johannesburg that feels a lot shorter if you can sleep for 6 or 7 hours.

At the same time my plans were less structured than my previous two trips; meet Bruce Bayer at the Cape Town airport and then take things one day at a time. The primary mission was to explore preparation of a Haworthia CD ROM to complement Bruce’s new book.

The flight out of JFK left an hour late and arrived in Johannesburg even later. Sprinting to my next flight I broke my first sweat of the trip. I arrived in Cape Town after dark some what exhausted and yet on pins and needles. Baggage claim was a sea of people; Muslims in white robes, kids whining, young women dressed in the latest fashion, old men needing shaves, tourists in khaki shorts and freshly pressed bush jackets ready for ‘safari’. Bruce met me right away and off we went into the Cape Town night. I would be staying with Bruce for the first few days of my visit. The next morning we were off to see Ernst van Jaarsveld at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Bruce needed Ernst’s help with revising a publication referencing Gasteria and we wanted advice on preparing location maps.

The new Kirstenbosch greenhouse

Inside the greenhouse

The new greenhouse at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The greenhouse isn’t to keep the plants warm, its to keep them dry. South Africa has several climate zones; winter rainfall, summer rainfall, and hardly any rainfall. Cape Town gets rain in the winter and can be cool and damp, too damp for the Namib and Richtersveld biomes

Two Masters; van Jaarsveld and Bayer

Aloe in flower

Two Masters; Ernst van Jaarsveld and Bruce Bayer. Several small Aloe in flower. Kirstenbosch is a wonderful garden, a must see for any visitor to Cape Town.

Our first field trip was in the McGregor area.

See the truck?
Lost my Mont Blanc here.

Whipstock Farm

Walk around the corner, and then some.

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Beware of the dog

M. Bruce BayerM.B.Bayer

The title of this article could also be “Haworthia is people”, but titles are difficult. This one is prompted by an article I saw in Readers Digest. The article was about the impact of the (in?)famous Kinsey Report on human sexual behaviour. The closing sentence was.. “As far as Albert Kinsey was concerned, the watchdogs of science were asleep at the switch”.
I find myself in a curious role. How many writers have a long trail with so many followers crossing it behind? I can actually vaguely remember meeting G.W. Reynolds as a four-year old. Looking back I regret that I did not make more of the contact I had with people who were part of Haworthia and my interest. These included G.G. Smith, Prof. Compton, R.A. Dyer, Miss Verdoorn, W.G. Armstrong, G.J. Payne, Meiring, Beukman’s daughter, Mrs Taute’s family, Doreen Court (daughter of Mrs Morris), Gordon King, Grace Blackbeard, Frank Stayner, J.W.Dodson and so many others. Why did I never write to J.R. Brown to whom I owe so much?
Who else has stretched their interest over so long a period and found their trail becoming so criss-crossed behind. Looking over my shoulder I see quite a string of prospective and aspirant writers on Haworthia. I see myself occupying the same kind of place in their minds that the people above have done in mine. Not being dead yet, makes me realise that while alive and available for comment and information, there is no call.
What my disappointment has been, is that despite so many interested people, there have been very few that I have felt to be kindred to. If I consider where I started, I have also to consider where I end. If I consider what I learned, I can consider what I can teach. To my dismay I seem to have learned too little, and tried to teach too much.
Now I have written a second book to examine myself as much as what those on my trail are doing. I do not want to throw in the towel like Smith did, and neither do I want to leave unfinished business. What unfinished business is there? Haworthia has not been fully explored nor explained.
1. Exploration.
a. I myself have many records which are not part of the herbarium record and neither are they part of the source from which collectors have drawn. There are also records gleaned by others which are available to some collectors but not to me. One reason is that I have actively discouraged collection and avoided undisciplined and unprincipled collectors like the plague. A principle of science is ‘No secrecy’. I would like to observe this and have tried to keep locality records on the basis of “well you never asked”. It is not nice to mention names and I will not do so, but there are several persons who have really exceeded the bounds of the rational in their collecting activity. Conservation agencies are, in my experience, helpless to do anything other than create a climate which deters honest people from venturing to pluck so much as a leaf. Less conservative, conscientious and sensitive souls function without qualm at the other extreme. Do I hide the records or do I appeal to the Haworthiophile community to institute their own code of conduct?
b. Records can also be ‘intellectual and experiential individual property’. I saw that in the ‘Aloe’ era, that there were collectors where this concept was manifest at extreme levels. Persons with no insight or understanding of what Reynolds had done in terms of record, were accumulating, obscuring and losing data which could have enriched that considerably. This is, and has happened in Haworthia too. For a decent book to be written on Haworthia there has to be a decent physical record. Several people have fiddled and faddled with Aloe since Reynolds, and have made several big changes. In the light of knowledge and record, the changes they have made are trivial. These fiddlers have not done more than what Reynolds did, and neither have they even reached the experiential level that he had.
2. Explanation.
a. I have tried to see classification as a scientific process based on facts and undisputeable observation. It is very evident that it is not treated like that. In the subgenus Haworthia, classification is just imagery. What I have done is to place this imagery in the real physical world of geographic space, based on a life-long experience of ‘classification’ of this kind, and thus inferred from my knowledge of other genera. In order to question the image I have, the viewer has to stand either where I have stood, or to seek a better and higher viewpoint.
b. Science is driven by question and answer. Answers generate more questions. Science is knowledge and knowledge is only really referrable to that which is true. The philosophy of science is expressed at an intellectual level that few of us are able to reach and I do not pretend to.

So what has this to do with dogs? Science is driven by publication and peer review. A scientist becomes recognised by publications and responses to those publications. A scientist and science writer is kept on the track of truthfulness and knowledge by the responses he gets. These responses by competent and peer scientists constitute the watch tower of truthfulness, credibility and authority. These place beacons along the path of knowledge which is surely the one we wish to travel.
My complaint, first expressed in 1986, was against reviewers. My strongly held view was that instead of providing direction, they were doing the opposite. I thought the dogs were asleep, untrained or just turning a blind eye to the scene. Where nomenclature is concerned, it is another matter. There is another hungry breed here which scavengers for scraps. I have indulged in ‘polemic’ because it is is the mechanism for attack and defence of doctrine. The doctrine I have tried to defend appears to be a fantasy of my own. I have felt the absence of competent and wakeful watchdogs and have tried to fill the role myself – in vain. So that is the dog I have been, apparently barking at the dark – alone.

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Haworthia, why controversy?

An Approximation of a Series of seven presentations given during the course of a short visit to U.S.A. June 1998 by M. Bruce Bayer.

The title of the talk(s) was given as, “Haworthia, why controversy?”

I have come to the U.S.A. on invitation and the reasons I accepted this invitation are manifold. Primarily I feel a sense of responsibility and duty to the subject, secondly I feel a sense of obligation as my interest in the genus owes much to the USA for the role J R Brown played in stimulating my interests in the genus, and thirdly I felt I ought to dispel the discomfort of the culture shock I had experienced in the U.S.A. when I visited it in 1982.

I have wanted to give talks that will in some way enrich the lives of the people who hear them, and this seems to be a very arrogant wish against the limited wisdom which an ordinary individual can acquire about anything in a life-time. But I am concerned about the confusions and controversy, which seems to be associated with the plants I enjoy so much. Classifications and taxonomy have acquired such a negative connotation, and yet they are both fundamental to the whole experience of knowing and growing plants. Without good classification there is no way of organising our thoughts and communicating with one another about the plants.

My interest in Haworthia dates back to my childhood and a deeper interest developed from plants of H. limifolia, which an uncle had collected in Natal. Living in Natal myself, I started to collect plants by corresponding with other collectors and nurseries. It soon became obvious to me that most of the plants seemed to be very ordinarily the same. I was by then a qualified entomologist researching the biology of Noctuid moths, and my study was taking me into the realm of classification and identification which formed the basis of my master’s thesis. My career took a turn and from a government research post I moved to commercial agriculture until fortuitously I landed up as Botanical Assistant to the Curator of the Karoo Botanic Garden in Worcester. There I was given the job of curating collections and given access to the Compton Herbarium and all the Collected Works of G G Smith. I very quickly learned that there was little relation between the available published works on Haworthia and the diversity of the plants I was seeing in the field.

Six years later I could produce a book which was an illustrated checklist of names which I thought could be used to usefully explore the Haworthia further, and also to provide a firmer basis of John Pilbeam’s book on Haworthia and Astroloba. My handbook was revised in 1983 and then in 1985, Col Scott’s book was published which virtually ignored anything which either Pilbeam or I had done. This book seemed to undo any progress which had been made to stable nomenclature in Haworthia and I was very disappointed to find my work categorised with the confusion that collectors have since found themselves in. My conviction is that publishers, editors, other writers, and other collectors whether really serious or not, have simply failed to properly identify the sources of confusion and address them in an ordered way. In my talk I would like to deny any responsibility for any confusion and try to acquire some credibility by pointing out that my work is based on:

1. Extensive fieldwork and thus familiarity with the plants in their native state
2. A knowledge and review of all the literature (I may be the last person who can say I have read all the literature)
3. Extensive experience with pattern recognition in biological systems
4. Knowledge and experience of classification and identification in many plant genera
5. A very comprehensive physical herbarium record located in three different herbaria
6. A clear species definition for the work
7. A long period of validation and testing over a period of 35 years from my first publication on the subject, to the present

When a recent catalogue stated that there was confusion in Haworthia classification, what they were actually doing was confessing their own downright intellectual laziness, and inability to discriminate between writers who are themselves confused and those who are not.

In reading Gould’s book I was also reminded of my childhood belief that the continents of the world had once been joined because they so obviously fitted together. It was interesting to observe that it is only in the last ten years that this hypothesis is accepted as a probable explanation because tectonic plate studies provide an explanation for how this has happened. However, it is the denial of continental drift in the absence of a prior knowledge of this mechanism which is curious to me and I do not think that is science. This has strengthened my view that science is not a matter of education and qualification, profession or position and an impressive CV. It is an attitude which is grounded on common sense and organisation of scepticism.

In order to have this attitude about species, we do need to have a reasonable idea of what a ‘species’ is. Unfortunately science seems to have failed us here as good definition of the term seems either hard to find or impossible to understand and we have to go our own way to do so. Firstly we have to consider that the work should be seen to be a postulate of the biological sciences for a concept of a basic building block for the understanding and classification of all living things in a unified system. Thus it is not for us to hi-jack it, and use to classify things in our individual minds on a basis of limited information, limited material and limited understanding of biological systems, for our own limited purposes.

Unfortunately available definition of the term is poor. The Collins Dictionary defines ‘species’ as those groups into which a genus can be divided, and it then defines ‘genus’ as a group which can be divided into species. The Websters’ Dictionary inserts the work ‘logically’ before ‘divided’. Very few botanical revisions and classifications actually address this question of definition, while on the other hand there seems to be intense intellectual discussion of a biological species concept against other concepts. I cannot see much sense in this. Generally the zoological concept of a species as ‘a group or groups of individuals capable of interbreeding or potentially interbreeding’ is basic to the classification system. This fails in plants because of interfertility across even generic lines. I have simply devised my own definition as ‘a group or groups of individuals interbreeding or potentially interbreeding which vary continuously in space and in time’. This brings us face-to-face with the actual problem of having to determine where these continuities are in space and in time. The problem is that it is the continuities that are obscure and confusing and difficult to describe and circumscribe. Knowing this can make a big difference to how we organise our scepticism about a classification and what we should look for to determine the credibility of writers who can do no better than to confuse themselves and the rest of us.

All too often the view is expressed that classification is an art form and that it expresses the opinions of the individual. If imagination, phantasy and ignorance are the qualifications for the work, then indeed art is what one may get.

In truth classification is and has to be a science in the sense that it has to be based on physical and measurable data. That data has to be accessible to all. Statements must be verifiable and if they are contested, new data should be presented to verify the new and proven statement. This gives rise to a structure of knowledge and information in which the names we use are meaningful and informative. In the case of Haworthia there is a problem (which is not incidentally unique) in that there are very few tangible characters on which classification can be based. Even the characters which differentiate genera in the larger context can be disputed. Therefore, the key to understanding species in Haworthia has to be based on geographic distribution and the spatial relationships and continuities which are observed in the field. Unfortunately again, the strictures of the nomenclatural system and its controls to stabilize names, does sometimes make it a little difficult for the classification to really express how species are related in the field. I have recognised that there is often continuity of varying degree between many different species, and that often I am simply recognising significant nodes in a fairly turbulent sea of similarity. The botanical code requires that names may not necessarily be co-incident with principle nodes. My approach in my first Handbook of 1976 was to try and find as great a relationship between nomenclaturally valid names and the variation in the field. I know I achieved this in very large measure and I have tried to build on that foundation ever since. However, there seems to be no way that the nomenclatural code, whatever its pretensions are to ensuring stability, can do to prevent the structure of the classification from being rattled, shaken and even broken. The onus lies entirely at the door of the individual who should recognise how important it then is for organisation of scepticism.

In my slide presentations, I have pointed out that the genera in the tribe Aloideae of the FamilyAsphodelaceae (following the new dispensation for the classification of plant families by Dahlgren) are not properly understood. What hypotheses have been put forward have been based on some very very poor character definition and analysis. The obvious sub-divisions within the genus Haworthia have been completely ignored and if this is the case I cannot see how any attempt to resort the genus can have any credibility.

I have shown a ‘flow-chart’ showing how the species of the ‘retuse’-type species are linked in a cobweb-like diagram. I pointed out that there are main role players in this web and that the species can be understood in the context of names which relate to geographic centres. My slides were selected to show some of the pathways in and between different centres. This was also to emphasise that a classification has to encompass all plants both known and unknown. In this way there is a predictive element. It is new collections and new methodology which test the classification and its predictions. This process is how an hypothesis is tested and how a classification is shown to be a product of a sceptical and inquiring mind; rather than the artistic product of an individual, driven by some undefined motive underlying a pretension to really understanding what has been done, and what needs to be done.

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South Africa – August 1997

For the next two days we did a lot of climbing in Schoemanspoort studying the interactions between H. starkiana and H. scabra. We also saw H. graminifolia, H. unicolor v. helmiae, H smitii, and others. Bruce Bayer’s concept of species and variety of H. starkiana, var. lateganiae, H. scabra, var. morrisiae, and H. smitii may have changed due to the various forms and interactions we saw here.

Haworthia scabra/smitii
Haworthia starkiana
H. starkiana v. lateganiae
H. scabra (long form)

Haworthia scabra, H. starkiana, H. starkiana var. lateganiae, H. scabra (long form emerging from mud).

South of Oudtshoorn we went to see the new species H. outeniquensis. Bayer will be formally describing this species in the new book. This plant was growing in a very untypical habitat, in shade under pine trees in pine needle mulch. I was dumbfounded. I would never have even thought to have looked in this habitat for a Haworthia. Later we stopped at a nice population of H. emelyae. That night Bruce let me read through the manuscript for the new book. The manuscript is almost complete. Bruce and Kobus were working on completing the photographs. Getting better pictures was one of the reasons for the trip to Oudtshoorn. The work on the new book is incredible! Thousands of hours of work.

Haworthia outeniquensis
H. oteniquensis

Haworthia outeniquensis nomen nudum.

Another new Haworthia we went to look at was east of Oudtshoorn on the top of a mountain. Bruce will be describing this plant in the new book. He called it H. pungens because the leaves are stiff and the tips are pointed and hard. It grows like an Astroloba, but has Haworthia flowers. I think it is somewhat like H. glauca, but larger and different. It was interesting to see how the clumps grew in a bow shape to catch gravel coming down the hillside, scree traps. Possibly the gravel keeps the roots cool? We also took a drive and a few short hikes in the northern end of Prince Alfred’s Pass where we found H. scabra and H. cymbiformis.

Haworthia pungens nomen nudem
H. pungens Haworthia cymbiformis Above the clouds in Prince Alfred's Pass

Haworthia pungens nomen nudum (2), H. cymbiformis, and above the clouds in Prince Alfred’s Pass.

We parted company on Sunday afternoon, Bruce and Kobus heading west, Gretchen and I east. We stopped in Steytlerville where we found H. decipiens. It was getting dark. Next time I go to South Africa I’m going to spend more time in this area. We then made Graaff Reinet our base for a couple days where we found H. viscosa and Astroloba foliolosa (I think). I couldn’t find H. marumiana. I later found out I had the right hill but didn’t climb high enough or look close enough.

H. viscosa
Astroloba foliolosa

Haworthia viscosa, Astroloba foliolosa.

We spent most of Wednesday driving northwest to Upington and Augrabies Falls. Then we went further north to the southern end of Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. We didn’t see lion but we did hear them. We saw a number of different antelope and wildebeest, monkeys, baboons, flamingos and all sorts of other birds. Kalahari is a sandy lonely beautiful place.

I wished we had more time. By the end of the week we were headed back south through Springbok. Namaqualand was green. There were a number of plants in flower. I saw bunches of different kinds of Mesembs including Lithops and Conophytum. I also saw H. venosa tesselata, and H. norteri near Vanrhynsdorp and Clanwilliam. By Sunday evening we were back at the Venters where we had dinner with Bruce and Daphne Bayer, Steve Hammer, and the Venters. After dinner we looked through a hundred or so slides, selecting some for the book. On Monday we went to see Etwin Aslander and his nursery and then back to Kirsenbosch for lunch and on to the airport for the flights back to the US. I wished I had another couple weeks (months). I’ll just have to go back again someday. Actually I’m thinking of taking my wife Paula and our now seven-year-old daughter Claire in say 3 years.

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South Africa – August 1997

On Sunday we stopped at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden for lunch and then drove around the cape and stopped to see several other Aloe sites. Proving that American culture (or marketing) has penetrated all corners of the world – we had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, Cape Town! On Monday Kobus dropped us at the airport where we picked up the rental car and a cell phone and off we went into Cape Town. Driving on the left was a great thrill! The rush of oncoming traffic was almost worth the price of admission! In Cape Town we went to see a couple of the museums and the new aquarium. The kelp tank at the aquarium was very healthy and natural looking, the wave action almost lead me to feel as if I were really underwater. Then after lunch we drove east along the coast to Hermanus to see the southern right whales. The seabed must drop off quickly as the whales were literally right next to the rocks and beaches. From the park bench right at the waters edge we could see several whales spouting, flippers and tails. I was amazed. In New England one usually travels an hour or more off shore to see whales, if you can find them at all. Here, right next to the beach were more than a few whales as well as countless seal and porpoise. We also saw a penguin colony near by, little butlers waddling around their rookery.

Aloe Jackass Penguins

On Tuesday we drove inland toward Riversdale and made a number of Haworthia collections along the way. We found H. turgida, H. mirabilis, and H. venosa near Swellendam. In Heidelberg we found H. heidelbergensis, of course, and various shades in-between. Near Riversdale on a series of hills, maybe a mile or less long, serpentine in contour, we found several interrelated Haworthia varieties. On one hill are H. retusa fa. foucheri. On the next are H. retusa fa. geraldii. On the third in the series are H. magnifica and H. minima.

Haworthia retusa fa. fouchei Haworthia retusa fa. geraldii clump Haworthia retusa fa. geraldii
Hills of Riversdale

Haworthia retusa fa. fouchei, H. retusa fa. geraldii clump, single head, and hills around Riversdale.

At the Gouritz River Bridge we found Aloe and Haworthia turgida growing on the steep banks of the river. Further east at Cooper Station we found H. pygmaea but couldn’t find H. floribunda. I couldn’t find H. parksiana at either of the sites near Great Brak River. On Wednesday we went to Mossel Bay and Knynsa (where I had a great big plate of oysters), again stopping here and there looking for Haworthia. On Thursday morning we met Kobus and Bruce Bayer near Ladismith and then spent the next four days in the Oudtshoorn area. In Sewenweekspoort we found H. habdomadis var. habdomadis. In my experience this variety is not often found in cultivation. In 1995 I had seen var. inconfluens near Ladismith. We also found H. marumiana and H. arachnoidea. We later stopped at Van Wykskraal to see the gardens and the famous H. truncata.

Gouritz River Gorge
Haworthia habdomadis v. habdomadis Haworthia arachnoidea
Haworthia bayeri
Haworthia helmiae
Haworthia truncata

Gouritz River Gorge, Haworthia bayeri, H. habdomadis var. habdomadis, H. arachnoidea, H. unicolor var. helmiae, H. truncata.

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