Haworthia, Subsection Retusae (2013)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (March 2013)

Haworthia is a large genus of plants with a great deal of confusion about the naming of plants in cultivation. Authors vary greatly on the number of species. In 1983, John Pilbeam listed 190 species in Haworthia and Astroloba, a Collectors Guide. The 1997 list of South African succulent plants by the National Botanical Institute of South Africa listed 74 species. Eleven years later, M. B. Bayer listed 124 species in his Haworthia Update, Essays on Haworthias, Volume 4. Each author listed many forms, subspecies and varieties under many of the species.

Henri Duval set up the genus in 1809 and named it Haworthia to honor Adrian H. Haworth, an English botanist. The genus has been divided into sections from the beginning to aid with identification while acknowledging differences and similarities among species. This classification was initially based on leaf and rosette characteristics. In 1908, Berger proposed 18 sections. Uitewaal devised a divison based on floral characters in 1947, followed by Bayer in 1971.

Bayer divided the genus into three subgenera: Haworthia, Hexangulares and Robustipedunculares. The subgenus also has sections and subsections. This article focuses on Haworthia, subgenus Haworthia, section Retusae, subsection Retusae.

Within this subsection are some of the most popular species, including H. comptoniana, H. emelyae, H. magnifica, H. mirabilis, H. mutica, H. pygmaea, H. retusa and H. springbokvlakensis. One could amass quite a collection of plants from these species, collected from different places and sold as varieties and subspecies.

Each of these species forms rosettes and is distinguished by mostly inflated leaves with some of the most interesting textures and leaf designs. The windows of many of these species boast amazing variety. Some species have smooth leaves, while others are extremely textured. Most species have interesting colors and designs.

H. comptoniana has glossy-surfaced leaves with exquisite flecks and lines that often resemble hieroglyphics from another planet or a long-dead language. Each plant has similar markings, although no two leaves are exactly alike. This species is somewhat slow-growing and remains mostly solitary. A well-grown specimen can certainly be a show stopper.

H. emelyae displays a very wide range of leaf textures, markings and colors. Some H. emelyae, variety picta (painted), range in color from bronze and lilac to pink and red in full sunlight. This species is often used in creating hybrids, but is also propagated by cuttings or divisions.

H. magnifica certainly lives up to its name. This species has plants with smooth leaves as well as others with plenty of texture. Two notable varieties are major and paradoxa.

H. pygmaea is often found with severe texturing on the leaf surfaces. Plants with the most texturing appear to have been sprinkled with sugar. Although the plants are slow-growing, they form clumps in time.

H. springbokvlakensis is one of the more unusual species – and one of the more sought-after plants in the genus. The plants have rounded leaf tips and the fewest number of leaves of most any species. In nature, the plants are drawn underground with contractile roots during the hottest months, with only the leaf tips exposed.

You need to research from where each species comes and water accordingly. Most plants aren’t difficult, although care should be used with watering. You should also keep an eye on your plants, as haworthias can lose their roots and need to be repotted.

If the haworthia bug hasn’t already bitten you, you may get hooked if you see their variety of shapes, colors and textures.