by Bruce Brethauer
The Haworthias are leaf succulents which typically produce spiraling rosettes. There is a huge amount of variation in the appearance of the leaves from species to species, with plants differing in leaf shape, texture, coloration, the absence or presence of windowed leaves, etc,. They are native to South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Maputoland. Most species are very compact plants, with rosettes measuring from about 1 inch across, to about 5 inches or so - although the entry in Wikipedia suggests that in some exceptional plants, the rosettes may reach to nearly 12 inches in the largest of species. In habitat, these plants typically grow under the shaded protection of larger plants or in the cracks and gaps between boulders. Virtually all species will produce offsets at their bases, and many (if not most) species will tiller prolifically, often producing dense mats containing dozens, or perhaps even hundreds of tightly packed rosettes. The Haworthias are close relatives of the Aloes, Gasterias, and Astroloba: the relationships are so close that hybrids can frequently be made between the species of these genera. Older references usually placed the Haworthias in the lily family, but more recent references suggest that they are more properly placed in the Asphodeloideae family. Different references cite different numbers of recognized species, but typically, these generally fall in a range of from 60 to about 90 species depending upon the source cited - there is often so much variation within a species that "splitters " frequently treat different varieties as distinct species. As with all things taxonomic, there is still considerable debate about the proper placement of many taxons - and the proper distinctions between varieties and species.
In my humble opinion, all of the species are attractive plants, and a good number of them are exceptionally so; exhibiting attractively marked or textured leaves, nice symmetric growth, and a tendency to tiller until the plant fills the pot with its many offsets. Additionally, the Haworthias are usually very easy to grow, tolerating moderate shade better than many other succulents (therefore making many of them better suited as houseplants, where the lighting is generally less than ideal for growing other succulents). Sadly, the flowers of the Haworthias are pretty non-descript, with drab flowers striped in whites and pale greens, and seldom growing more than a few millimeters long and wide. Even so, the flower spikes are typically produced on very long wiry stems, and these spikes can provide a distinctive, often whimsical interest to plants in bloom, as they tend to give the plant the appearance of bearing long streamers.
Haworthia limifolia has long been a favorite of mine. It is a more robust plant, with larger rosettes - which in my plant grow to about 5 inches across, with broadly triangular leaves arranged in a pinwheel-like rosette. The leaves bear series of distinctive, pronounced ridges, which accounts for both its common name ("Fairies Washboard") and its proper name (Haworthia limifolia, with "limifolia" translating "file leafed"). This species tillers readily, and grows rather quickly, so that in about 3 or 4 years, a single rosette will produce enough offsets to densely pack a 12 inch bowl. The species and its varieties have a rather wide distribution - they are native to Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa, with a number of recognized varieties and regional forms. The most unusual variety is Haworthia limifolia v ubomboensis which has somewhat narrower, pale green leaves which entirely lack the characteristic ridges.
Haworthia limifolia is an easy plant to grow, it responds well to my basic guidelines for growing succulents, with one important distinction - if you follow my guidelines to move the plant outdoors during the warmer months of Spring, Summer and Fall, it is probably best to put this plant in a site where it is partially shaded for much of the day. Exposure to full sun, at least in one season, resulted in many of the rosettes getting scorched - perhaps this plant may tolerate full sun, but it will need a longer, more gradual transitional period to acclimate to increased exposure to direct sun than most of my other succulents. With this single consideration, I have found this plant to be a remarkably easy and tolerant species, surviving many indiscretions in its care through the years. It has been long lived, and has not lost any of its vigor since I first purchased it about 18 years ago. Since that time, I have propagated many plants from its numerous offsets, divided it on several occasions, and gave it away as a housewarming gift about 13 years ago. It has returned to my home several years ago, when that recipient moved to a smaller apartment, and had to significantly downsize. It has thrived under my care, and under the care of others - Occasionally I hear from one of the persons who acquired an offset from this plant in one of our sales in years past, and these too have produced numerous offsets, and are now filling good sized pots. Not every succulent has proven to be so accommodating - I can really find no downsides to this plant - unless of course you demand a plant which produces large and very showy flowers, aside from that, this is a plant that I can recommend to practically all growers - If you are new to growing succulents in general, or are interested in beginning a collection of Haworthias, this is a great starter plant.