Haworthiopsis viscosa and the evolutions

    Haworthiopsis viscosa and the evolutions
    Author: Ivan Latti
    Photographer: Johan Wentzel

    Haworthiopsis viscosa, commonly know as koedoekos (kudu food), is a small succulent that forms clumps and eventually may consist of numerous stems. The leaves are stacked in an unusual triangular pattern. They persist on the stems, creating a clump of roughly erect columns up to 15 cm in height.

    It bears small, nearly white flowers. The plant is, however, commonly cultivated for the appearance of its leaves rather than for its flowers. It grows easily from stem cuttings or offsets.

     It grows naturally in the Little Karoo and further inland parts of the Great Karoo into the Eastern Cape.

    The habitat is semi-arid, rocky, Nama and succulent Karoo terrain, dry fynbos terrain and Albany thicket. The species is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century.

    There used to be several varieties of H. viscosa, no longer upheld it seems, including var. viscosa, var. major, var. minor, var. parvifolia, var. subobtusa, var. caespitosa, var. viridissima and var. quaggaensis, the earliest ones described around 1821 and many later, by different people studying these plants.

    These varieties are usually located in smaller areas within the plants overall distribution. Each varietys distribution is then sometimes characterised by unique habitat features that trigger retention in the natural selection of those new plants best suited to the specific micro-environmental conditions. The slow, continual process of becoming better adapted through offspring turns one plant species into several. It is a complex process and some varieties may grow in the same areas or overlap in distribution range.

    This unstoppable force of transforming life into more and new forms, or evolution, makes new species appear over numerous generations, better suited for meeting the challenges presented by conditions. Thus further subdivisions may be generated continually to keep the splitters and lumpers among taxonomists busy in times to come. 

    The broader or narrower classes into which plants like a face-changing Haworthia becoming an Haworthiopsis are grouped by scientists help people to form ideas of the ongoing, underlying processes and events, as well as their causation. Biological diversity on earth is astonishing in two ways: the forces of life-seeking change and the mind-boggling beauty of natures multifarious becoming something else. Real world examples of the mythological transformation of living entities people built into their stories thousands of years ago.

    Ideas grow into theories to be tested and improved upon in a secondary, man-made evolution, a thought-driven one about how life and the world works. For thoughts, images and words evolve, not via genes, but evolve nevertheless, as people perceive them and conceive new ones, building on the old ones in whatever directions minds will wander. This is a compelling adventure of the human mind, manifested in continued learning about life on earth. Humanity is a knowledge seeking species craving to know and what to do with what it knows. What it does with this knowledge hasnt always been exemplary, as technology was initially used for bettering peoples lives in a single beneficiary sense, rather than improving life for all species, or at least in a more inclusive context.

    Theories come and go, those for which confirmatory feedback is found persist, some morph into accepted principles and laws. Some world views shun particular promising theories, irrespective of the accumulation of evidence, due to the blinding by self-interest. Maybe every scientific discipline has its flat earth component, or Johari Window that separates twenty 20 vision of the world and others from blindness of the self. Freedom of thought and expression is valuable in spite of its quirks, feedback a boon if used.

    The knowledge cum noise growth from more media, more people and technological advances can never reach one clear and stable "answer". For one thing, the noise in the system and the environment sees to that. Full revelation or breakthrough discovery to the ultimate of knowing is simply not for us, the way we are endowed intellectually and socially. We also cant see the whole world, since important parts of it, relevant to us, are continually being created by other people, while change is arriving on untold other fronts.

    And what would people do after all if they knew everything? Possibly act as if it were all old hat, for so many already have the illusion of omniscience or spend time on refining own notions, rather than checking the real inbox.

    Humanity is too small a branch of the biological tree, too isolated and limited in understanding even its own backyard, to grow a justified arrogance about its capabilities on earth, let alone the real world out there in space. The world beyond earth is continually becoming more real as learning from exploration steadily grows, but almost all of that world is lightyears away.

    The two Voyager exploring crafts sent from earth are the ones that have travelled furthest of all man-made missions. They have after years of travel only reached about one light day from earth so far, while the closest star is more than four light years away. The exoplanets discovered beyond our solar system are many light years away, but still all inside our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The distances to other galaxies and the sheer number of them are beyond our comprehension, let alone our capacity.

    Still, the species that wants to know, to see and make sense of it all is at every frontier, far and near, the human yearning for discovery unquenchable among those whos minds have been opened by understanding. Once we know, we find a use for our knowledge and soon a series of misuses of it as well. For that is also human nature. Then follow the warnings about disasters looming and after delays involving agreement among ourselves, the laborious corrections. So far weve managed to mend our ways, more or less in time. But the next problem may be a bridge too far. We shall never know before we get there.

    Carrying on the roller coaster ride of living on earth is the collective adventure of all people. Some are more involved, some are more interested. Maybe soon we go beyond earth and other frontiers like the one about meshing our minds with technology in the digital field. There are many more frontiers of discovery and mastery to confront right here on earth, besides space. And so we go, always forward, as long as the learning stays ahead of the unintended consequences.

    Human values evolution is a different, social kind of the phenomenon occurring only species-wide among people, or so we like to believe, in spite of some evidence to the contrary. The older, genetic phenonomenon happening in whatever lives, is remarkably similar in functioning and effect to the evolutions triggered within the human civilisation.

    Values evolution has impacted on humanity feathering only its own nest in the development projects undertaken on earth. It starts with shunning the crude focus on short term gains only. The wisdom of favouring long term human benefits taking care of more significant variables over short-term ones in technological choices, goes hand in glove with sparing more species and ultimately biodiversity.

    Caring about the planets residents overall is turned saleable as it benefits human long term needs. Granted, there are better value positions possible, but maybe we cant sell them to a significant number of the decision makers acting on behalf of the nearly eight billion people alive today. Just as riches on earth is concentrated in few hands among people today, influence and power are delicate issues requiring skills also concentrated in comparatively few hands. These hands also seem to control superior purse strings or access them more easily.

    Value-driven trends are now directed at jumping ahead of technology to intervene and lead after scientific discovery, before technology capitalises on the opportunities. The nuclear debate around World War II did much to create this trend, but subsequent developments grew camps that arranged selfish and altruistic needs in different ways, circling and stalling among choices more than progressing along clear lines to agreed objectives. For on how much can humanity agree today?

    Technologies as real phenomena become scientific priorities in themselves in our time. The digital era is making peoples ideas about shaping the human future very strange and wide-ranging. It also brings the deep future to tomorrow afternoon, more complex than ever before and in rollercoaster style.

    The increasing distance between First World haves and Third World have-nots with multiplying permutations and combinations of situations inbetween globally, make some yearn for control.

    Global legislation and governance buoyed and harassed by mass media cannot undo the speed and complexity of the human lifestyle on earth. Viruses and climatic disasters can. The situation is reminiscent of the Jacques Brel song, Carousel that bears listening to in this context.

    All of this isnt the whole story or even the real story. But it alludes to things happening today that are unlike events of the past. It doesnt inspire confidence anywhere and doesnt diminish the agitation among humans globally (Smith, et al, 2017; Scott, 1985; http://redlist.sanbi.org).

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