Haworthia Growing, Care & Cultivation
I am a bit new to Haworthia but my interest has grown over recent years especially after visiting some of the great hybridises in Japan and Korea. Years ago when I started collecting plants I was told all the good old collectors seem to end up growing Haworthia and it did seem to be true after getting to know Burt Copus, Alec salzer. Both are now gone sadly but Heinze Straud is still growing but his collection has thinned over recent years.
These three all started with growing succulents, Bert and Mia Copus at one time had the most extensive Echeveria collection available Mia ended up growing the Echeys and Burt went heavily into the Haworthia. Haworthia were Alec Salzer passion for nearly 50 years. I am happy to have some lovely plants from Alecs now disseminated collection. They are a fond reminder off him. Am I heading the Haworthia way as I get older too.?? Time will tell its own tale.
How I tripped onto Haworthia.
I first went to japan about 5 years ago. And only got to meet a few people mainly Echeveria growers. Mr Horikowa was the first real Haworthia grower I met then, I could not stop taking photos of these plants I had never seen the like of before in Australia. Two years later I heard about the Tokyo succulent show. I thought I have too see this as I knew some great new hybrids were being produced there, But, not who was doing them.With kayo’s help we organized to be in Tokyo two days before the show. This is without doubt the craziest show I have ever been too. Each stand was three deep in customers for normally polite Japanese, they lost it when the many new plants were for sale. It was dog eat dog getting to see the plants. In 90 degree heat in a massive basement of a large building.
The sale finished at around 2 in the afternoon. I was exhausted by this time with such a crowd and stifling heat. And this is when the real fun started Mr Nishi was to be the entertaining Auctioner of one of the most amazing collections of Haworthia you have ever seen. I saw some go for the equivalent of up to $10,000 that afternoon. I think it was then I got a bit hooked.
It was here that I met for the first time Matsuoko Suichi san He knew me from face book and as it turned out later we have mutual friends in Korea which had spoken well of me. We hit it off well right from the start and we had an invite to a grower who is not know very well known as his selling habits are very discrete and his nursery rarely visited by any other than a few very close friends. We stayed nearby for a few days as there seemed so much to see and talk about. His Haworthia were amazing. We learned that weekend that his master (teacher) was Mr Nishi Who some consider the No1 Haworthia grower in Japan.
Every year Mr Nishi has an invitation only sale, I have as yet not been invited as my introduction was very recent This sale is so famous last year it was televised this sale last year turned in just short of $600,000 in one day. It was here I also learned of the levels of Growers and Nurseries in Japan. There are general ones you can visit. Then there are special ones you need an invitation to go to which are often unknown to the public. Then there are the masters nurseries which you may or may not be invited too visit by a learning grower or apprentice such as Suichi.
I also learned that its rude to ask to visit certain people, and that you must wait to be invited, It took me two years and three visits. Before I was invited to meet the Master. The next visit will now be much easier as the introductions have now been done. So getting to know people there is nearly as fast as a slow growing Haworthia.
I will add here that there is a certain need for trust and getting to know your visitors before letting them visit your nursery In Japan with the value of Haworthia reaching rather dizzying heights and strong demand from china. And China has a lot of rich people who can afford these often,unprocurable plants that theft buy Chinese nationals of famous and well-known collections have occurred over the last few years. Some growers have lost 20 years of line breeding in one night.
This has made most Japanese growers very cautious who they allow in to view their nurseries. Korea is the same. below Mr Hyun sook Lee I think the top grower in Korea.
What I have learned from these master growers.
Haworthia roots are quiet different to other succulent roots. They are mostly deep rooted with fleshy large often fragile deep feeding roots. These roots are really storage roots for food Annually they reabsorb some of the older roots. Which end up hollow husks of outer skin. while growing the new roots They do have finer smaller surface roots as well.
One thing I did notice in Japan was that many of the special Truncata and mauhanii types seemed often to be overpotted in rather large and deep pots Up to 200 mm deep for a big specimen plant.
I/E plenty of room for good root development . I was told by Suichi that even though the tops of the plant might be beautiful the roots are more important that they be beautiful and strong and full as well as the tops
The next thing I learned was the soil mix, Japan uses products that are not really available here such as Pumice, Diatamite , Akadama. They also have some nicely graded sands which we find hard to get here they also use perlite which we have.
What these products have and produce is what I have been told is the most important ingredient Air in the mix. Or what we call porosity. Also many use very large Akadama balls for crocking in their larger pots. This practice is not seen here these days very much
The mix I have devised with products readily available in Australia is some of my succulent mix Pine Bark and two grades of sand plus a few other things I will talk about this later. Perlite, large coarse grade. 3mm washed river sand (no clay) chunks of coconut fiber, Coconut crush its sometimes called (a lot of air with a bit of water holding ability)This is used for hydroponic tomatoes and strawberries.
This is first treated with a liquid fertilizer so as not to drain And lastly Scoria. I have seen some mixes with a lot or mostly scoria. I feel too much of this sharp rock can cause root damage as the plants develop big strong roots wounding or cutting them making them break easily as the mix tightens up with large new roots developing. There will always be long debates on what to use or not to use but the proof is in quality of the roots you can produce over a 6 month period
Testing for porosity I filled a one liter container with my normal succulent mix then filled it with water and drained off into a measure cup 250 ml of water and found it to have about 25% porosity. I/e 25 % air in the mix
The Haworthia mix I made I did the same test in the same 1 liter container and found it to have just slightly less than 50% porocity.
The fertilizer I use is 5 to 6 month Osmocote with trace elements, About 30%. I also add GroMax a soft immediately available complete NPK. About 20% And lastly what I think is most important it the addition of about 50% to this blend is Dolomite lime a slow release lime full of trace elements for good plant health. Most good nurserymen use this on their potted trees. Below this enough for a good sized plant
Shade Haworthia in nature often grow in deep crevices under bushes or nearly submerged beneath the soil 70% shade is what is needed. For many of mine I grow them beneath the benches under other plants. They will burn easily in overly strong light going a brown colour and losing the vibrant colours they have
A traditional old Japanese Orchid pot used for Haworthia
The Japanese masters I have talked to all recommend potting twice a year once in Spring and again in Autumn. As they are looking for optimum health of the plant for breeding and pollinating those big flower heads full of seed can really drain a plant. They are wanting maximum flower heads good growth and seed production when breeding. My way is to put the plant on its side and squash each of the sides of the pot to loosen the plant then ease it out by the head allowing the soil to drop away from the bigger roots this protects those rather large fleshy roots which can be easily broken.
Matsuoko San Pollinating Huge flower spikes with full seed pods
The roots I have produced here are as good as any I have seen in Japan and Korea where I have prepared many plants for shipping back to here. This has enabled me to examine their potting mixes and look at the roots they have produced. For me this tells me I am on the money with my soil mix. More good roots below.
Japan was the first of the Asian countries to perfect Haworthia breeding. This started 25 to 30 years ago as Japan became more affluent. Then followed Korea (which to this day is mainly echeveria crazy ) with one exceptional Haworthia grower. Then the craze has over the last few years moved to China. More recently Thailand Taiwan have started to produce and develop a Haworthia trade.
The most recent trend I have seen in Japan is that the growers there have a feeling that the genetics are getting a bit muddied so the trend now is to try and get some of the original species bach with many now lost to rebuild again their very interesting breeding program. China has millions of collectors. Both Korea and Japan are feeding this massive market.
Recently Japan started to recognize the value of the genetics that Haworthia breeders have attained there. So they have designated certain lines of Haworthia a “National Treasure” which means you can’t export them willy nilly. This has made it difficult for some growers to sell their plants.But there are ways as we have found out.
But the Japanese really want to earn some money for these treasures, as it can take years for some of these special plants to make an offset or a pup. So they are recently finding their way to China where they are either sold for great amounts or are loaned for a year and then returned to the owner where he collects a fee for what is produced from his plants some Tissue culture companies there are now making many from these rare slow growing special plants.
The particular company that we are working with is specializing in only growing the best from Japan and Taiwan, sometimes paying the previous owner up to Million dollars for very special ones. This company over time has perfected the variegate tissue culture which is very hard to do So next years lot will have many more variegates than we got this year.
So we are not dealing with $2 tissue cultures here some these are really quiet expensive plants.When we approached this company we were offered exclusive rights to sell their plants in Australia if we continue buying a certain amount for the next three years. We are the sole Australian distributor for these special plants.