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Plant Highlight: Haworthia truncata

September 2009

One of the strange and wonderful oddities of the botanical world is the phenomenon of “windowed” leaves, in which a succulent leaf has a translucent area at the end which admits light.  Thus a leaf which is buried in the soil can receive the sunlight necessary for photosynthesis from the inside, transmitted from the “window” through the clear juicy inner tissue of the leaf to the green outer layer.  Being hunkered down in the soil offers the plant protection from desiccation and from browsing by animals.  It is interesting to note that this intriguing syndrome is especially prevalent in South Africa, where it has arisen in several different lineages, including the genus Haworthia which includes the species Haworthia truncata.

There are many species of Haworthia with windowed leaves, and one of these is Haworthia truncata, so named because its leaves look as though they had been cut off, or truncated.  The leaves are arranged in a fan, with their flat translucent ends flush to the ground, or slightly raised above it.  In cultivation, this species is often grown raised up higher, so that the dark green sides are fully visible.

Haworthia truncata is native to the Little Karoo area of South Africa, a little inland from the south coast. This region is dry, but not a real desert, and it receives some rain in winter as well as some in summer.  Plants can endure some frost, but not a hard freeze of any duration.  They flower during the summer months, though it must be admitted that the flowers are certainly not showy.  The slender flower stalks are usually a foot or less high, bearing small white flowers striped with grayish-green.