The Cactus Patch
October 2018

Memories Returning
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

No sooner had I written about four obits, when two more appeared.  John McCain was, of course, expected, but was, nonetheless, a great loss to the nation.  I may not have agreed with him on many points, but his skill at negotiating with opposites was remarkable. 

Neil Simon also will be missed.  He made us laugh and we could use a few laughs right now.

The September issue of Natural History was devoted to articles on human origins. I am neither a paleontologist nor an anthropologist, but I have always been interested in both. While I was working on a Ph.D. in malaria in New York, I spent a lot of my “spare” time at the American Museum of Natural History.  I even went so far as to take a course on human origins from Dr. Shapiro which used the vast collection there to enhance the lectures. Later, when we had returned to Africa, we were able to stop by the American Museum while on leave and see the remarkable display they had of bones showing clues as to human origins. I don’t believe there has been such a gathering of specimens before or since then.

I was pleased to note that Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut of Paris got a mention. They had worked in Botswana examining cave deposits with stone tools when I was there.  More recently they have named Orrorin tugenensis (Original man from Tugen {Kenya]), a 6 million year old relative of man.  There is a beautiful painting of the related Ardipithecus of Ethiopia, which shows the mix of ape-like and human features in these.

On the 24th of August we went over to John’s house and watched the film “Finding Altamira”.  It tells the story of the discovery of this remarkable collection of prehistoric art in Spain and the disbelief that met this. Later, of course, other caves such as Lascaux in France showed the truth of this discovery. I visited the Museum of Natural History in Paris as a guest of Bernard Bataille (who worked on early mammals in Lesotho when I was there) and they had a mock-up of Lascaux.  It was impressive.  (I also met with Martin and Brigitte while I was at the museum.)

On 1st Sept. we went with John to the Huntington for the annual Succulent Symposium.  They have tried to keep costs down and there is no longer an evening session, so it was easy to make it a one-day trip. Following a light breakfast at 8:30 and a welcome by James Folsom, Director of the Gardens, we had a lecture on winter growers of the Richtersveld (South Africa) by John Trager, Curator of the Desert Garden and Collections at the Huntington.  He showed us a lot of Aloes, mesembs etc. but only a half a dozen Euphorbias.  It was a great comparison of plants in their natural habitat and at the Huntington.

The second lecture by Lucas Majure of the Florida Museum of Natural History on the Cacti of the Caribbean was less interesting for me.  He had too many family trees with so much detail it would take a month to study them. Jeff Moore of Solana Beach then showed us Soft Succulents, mainly a lot of cultivated Crassula relatives.  We then had a delicious lunch.  We were invited to visit the Desert Garden, but there wasn’t time and a lot of the pathways are being redone.  Instead I went to see the giant arum which had bloomed.  Unfortunately it was setting seed and no longer smelled.  It had a sign “Stank”.

After lunch we were treated to a talk on How to Move a Botanic Garden by Cathy Babcock of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Judy Mielke and Rod Stanger of Logan Simpson and Al Dunstan of the Wallace Desert Garden.  It seems H. B Wallace, vice president under Truman, had built up a huge succulent collection in Scottsdale, Arizona.  After his death it was decided to move the collection to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior.  This involved mapping and moving thousands of mature plants, an amazing feat.

After a break we heard Bongani Ntloko speak on Lesotho Succulents.  I was very interested to hear him as I had given a talk on the same subject decades earlier.  It was an excellent talk with an emphasis on the spiral aloe, Lesotho’s National Flower. He and his wife Anisele were brought to the States by growers in Colorado who are, of course, interested in high altitude plants.

The day ended with a talk by Derek Tribble of London who showed us all the variations in Cotyledon, Adromischus and Tylecodon.  I was interested because I have met all three genera in southern Africa and even published a paper on variations in Cotyledon orbiculata in Lesotho. The genera are even more complex than I knew!

Afterward there was a reception and we got to socialize with Bongani and Anisele.  I also talked with old friends such as Brian Kimble from the Ruth Bancroft Garden and Kelly Griffith who started all the hybrid aloes that have flooded the market.  On the way back to Bakersfield we had dinner at the Claim Jumper in Valencia.  As it was September (but her birthday is the 29th!) they gave Polly $25 off on her Claim Jumper Card!  It’s too bad they are so far from Bakersfield.

One sad note, at the symposium we were given a notice of the death of Lee Miller who has contributed much to our succulent world.  I presume the next issue of the Cactus and Succulent Journal will tell us all of his accomplishments.

Billy and James Tyler have been visiting both at our exercise group and our choir.  James was a minister at the Lutheran Church in Oildale and our choir still sings there at Christmas time.  They met us in exercise and introduced us to the choir.  They are now retired and living with family in Florida.

An even more exciting reunion was on the 6th of September when we met Sandy and Cornell Dudley for lunch at Milts. (We had already decided not to go to Fresno for the annual members’ sale at the FCSS.)  They had been in Malawi in 1976 when I taught at the University.  (In fact Cornell was head of Biology – my boss – at one point.)  We left in1981, but the Dudleys stayed on and are now residents in Malawi.  (Both are originally from California and they were in Bakersfield visiting relatives.)  John was able to join us for lunch and they got to see the adult he became.  Cornell is still monitoring vegetation in Liwonde National Park and reports that Euphorbia lividiflora populations there and elsewhere in southern Malawi are dying out.  No-one knows why.

The 7th of September was supposed to be the grand beginning of the new Flix at the Fox (replacing the old Flicks).  There was a reception with food and drinks and 8oo of us sat down to watch “Loving Vincent”, an animation of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings to illustrate his life.  I had learned about it from John and recommended it to Phil Neufeld (former head of Flicks and now residing in Santa Fe).  He knew of it and agreed it was worth considering.  Unfortunately, the machinery let us down and all attempts at projection failed.  It has been rescheduled for the 5th of October, but it was not a good beginning for the new Flix!

Of course we were at the BCSS meeting with Karen Zimmerman of the Huntington.  I had already heard Kelly Grffith talk on his hybrid aloes so it was a very repetitious presentation for me.

Speaking of Aloes, I promised an answer to the question of mistakes in the sentence about discovering the cave in Vietnam.  The first mistake is calling the plant an aloe. Aloes do not occur naturally in Southeast Asia.  The plant in question is probably eaglewood or sandlewood.  They are sometimes mistakenly called “aloe”, but are unrelated dicots. (Aloes are monocots.) They do have a resin or sap which does have use in perfume.  True aloes, of course, do not.  For further information see “When is an Aloe not an Aloe?” by Bruce J Hargreaves. (See last month’s newsletter for the reference.)

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