Haworthia (2006)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (February 2006)

I started growing haworthias almost 25 years ago. At that time, I lived in a city apartment with no yard, few windows and no space for large plants. I was beginning to learn how to grow succulents and making many watering mistakes. Despite the limited environment and my inexperience, the haworthias grew well.

Small and compact, most fit comfortably in 3- to 5-inch pots. They do not have to be outdoors during the summer and do not need a hard, cold dormancy in the winter. Instead, most haworthias are winter growers that are tolerant of soil mixes and watering schedules. They bloom easily, putting up cute whitish flowers on long stems that tower above the bodies of the plants.

On top of all the characteristics that make these plants ideal for the beginning collector, haworthias are gorgeous. They have fascinating shapes and symmetries, ranging from tight spirals of layered triangles to heaping mounds of tiny, clear-skinned grapes. Colors vary from bright yellow to deep brown-red, pale lime green to deep blue green.

Leaf textures are interesting, too. Some plants have bright white raised tubercles in stripes or patterns of dots on the tops and bottoms of the leaves. Other leaves have rough surfaces that look as though they have been dusted with sugar crystals. Then there are those “windows” — perhaps the most interesting leaf feature of these plants.

Many haworthias have clear leaf tips and surfaces. These translucent windows allow sunlight to penetrate into the bodies of the leaves. In most plants, photosynthesis occurs close to the surface of the leaves. In windowed plants, photosynthesis occurs throughout the leaves. Besides haworthias, other plants in the Mesemb group also have translucent leaf sections: some frithia and fenestraria, and many of the lithops. In the wild, these plants grow buried in the soil with only their windowed leaf tips exposed to the sun.

When discussing odd plant features and haworthias, we must also talk about roots. Haworthias have long, fleshy “contractile” roots. In the cool, wet seasons, these fat roots serve as water storage – much like the caudiciforms. In the hot seasons, these roots serve two functions: They return moisture to the body of the plant and shrink while doing so, pulling the plant deeper into the soil to protect it from the sun and heat.

While many of these plants are inexpensive, the less prolific and more unusual ones can be quite costly. On eBay, rare haworthias sell for more than $200.

Next meeting: Sunday, February 12. Be there! And bring your plants – the good, the bad, the ugly and the unnamed. Bring those pups that need a new home, too. Plan on having a good time and becoming a better grower of the haworthias in your collection. Until then, check Renny Hosugai’s site for photos of outstanding plants: