The Titanopsis Group is a division of the Aizoaceae (the mesemb family), a horticulturally important group of miniature succulent plants dominant in many parts of southern Africa. Mesembs: The Titanopsis Group covers the history, taxonomy, biogeography and cultivation of 34 species in nine genera (Aloinopsis, Titanopsis, Tanquana, Vanheerdea, Ihlenfeldtia, Nananthus, Didymaotus, Deilanthe, and Prepodesma), along with their natural and artificial hybrids.
Mesembs: The Titanopsis Group is exquisite: from the engaging text of the world's best-known mesemb grower to photos and paintings from the best photographers and illustrators in the world of succulent plants. Like other books by this author, Little Sphaeroid Press anticipates these books will become rare collectibles and essential resources for identification and reading enjoyment.
The author has worked for the Cactus and Succulent Journal of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1951, Steven Hammer is the third son of a musician and a designer/architect. The family immigrated to Los Angeles when Steven was a few weeks old. His earliest memories involve plants: a scarlet canna thriving in deep shade, the wonderfully rapid growth of a summer squash, and the big cornfield across the street. (In the early 1950s the San Fernando Valley was still semi-rural and had extensive walnut and orange groves.)
When Steven was 12 years old his father took him to Johnson’s Cactus Gardens in Paramount, California, where he was absolutely galvanized by lithops and shocked by cigarette smoke. Harry Johnson sold him a few plants along with a copy of Walther Haage’s Cacti and Succulents, A Practical Handbook. Soon he had an ambitious collection of mammillarias, lithops, and conophytums, though mesemb sources were quite limited in those days. He often visited the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, then curated by Myron Kimnach, who later became a good friend and an important career influence.
Meanwhile, his early interest in piano playing, for which he had almost enough talent but no public zeal, also increased. Private piano studies climaxed, if that is the word, in a Bachelor of Arts from University of California at Santa Cruz in 1973, where he accompanied Kent Nagano, then in his tenorial, pre-Messiaenic days, and the excellent violinist Lisa Suits-Weiss, who later worked with another Stephen Hammer, the baroque oboist. After graduation he studied with Goodwin Sammel, a disciple of Claudio Arrau, thus becoming one of Liszt’s 10,000 great-great-great grand pupils. He also tended anemones and soup kettles at the University’s biodynamic garden. Miraculously, the oft-twinned arts of Venus and Bacchus left him untouched.
But we digress. In 1977 he sowed every Cole-numbered lithops under the sun and soon got a job as a cactus and succulent propagator for a wholesale nursery. In 1980, along with Steve Brack, Harry Hall invited Hammer to South Africa for a month-long field trip. Brack and Hammer returned to South Africa in 1982 to spend a month with Conophytum expert Anthony Mitchell. In 1985, encouraged by Seymour Linden and by grants from Huntington and CSSA, Hammer joined a Namaqualand trip organized by Bryan Makin and Keith Grantham, which got extended to full-term pregnancy by a surprise offer of a nine-month internship at the Karoo Garden in Worcester. There he made herbarium specimens and studied the extensive Conophytum, Lithops, and Haworthia collections. He often took the train to Cape Town to visit the extensive botanical mortuary at the Bolus Herbarium.
During his unplanned pregnancy he traveled with Ernst van Jaarsveld, Bruce Bayer, Pauline Perry, Norbert Juergens, and Steve Brack, who subsequently employed him as a Mesa Gardener for the next ten years. Later trips (often two per year, rain or shine, in 1987, ‘88, ‘89, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, ‘2001, ‘03, ‘07) involved Peter Bruyns, Kotie Retief, Heidi Hartmann, Terry and Jennifer Smale, Gerhard Marx, Sigrid Liede, Niko Sauer, Jan Vlok, Emile Heunis, Derek Tribble, Jossie Brand, Hermius Kennedy, Chris Barnhill, Irma Burger, Graham and Francoise Williamson, Pete Arthurs, Russell Wagner, Phil Desmet, Nick Helme, and Adam Harrower.
Hammer has discovered a number of interesting taxa and many dullards too, not all them in Aizoaceae: for example, Conophytum achabense (the smallest mesemb), C. hammeri, C. hyracis, Lithops hermetica, Vlokia obesa, Tylecodon cordiformis, Avonia mallei, and that wonderfully homely shrublet, Hammeria gracilis. He has described ca. 45 taxa, including the genera Hartmanthus and Vlokia.
"This book – which opens a series of 8 volumes – is the first full overview of a group consisting of 34 species included in 9 genera (Aloinopsis, Nananthus, Titanopsis, Deilanthe, Didymaotus, Ihlenfeldtia, Vanheerdea, Prepodesma, Tanquana). It also includes two newly described species and a recombination. However, we don't want to insist on the content of this book – the main details were already mentioned in our previous issue in the short promotional note; we won't try to outline a profile of the author as we are convinced there's no mesemb enthusiast who hasn't heard of Steven Hammer yet. We will try instead to suggest the impressions we gathered from reading this book: very briefly, we had the same feeling we would have had while breathing in the dawn or the dusk – we were overwhelmed by all the magic things happening around! Yes, we got your smile – botanical literature is dry as it gets, but not this book!
Of course, who would want to dig for information, has no need to worry, there's plenty of it here: the book presents very rigorously distinct species and genera, they are thoroughly described, there are many general or specific information about the taxonomy and history, habitat, distribution and ecology, horticultural tips, anecdotes, you name it... However, everything is clearly articulated, and a wealth of information lays hidden between the covers of the book, but written in such an attractive style, so different from the scholastic dryness
of most botanical works. [...]
Last but not least, the illustrations – both photos and fine drawings – are perfectly serving this book, from both informative and aesthetic point of view. Is a show in itself and we simply would not know what else to say. The Titanopsis Group is not a book written by a botanist for other botanists. It is a book written from the heart of an artist who happens to know everything about mesembs."
- Xerophilia - AnuI II, nr. 1 (4)- martie 2013