If you think that Malta’s in any way short of varied flora, then you’re looking in all the wrong places…
As springtime dawns upon the country and temperatures get warmer, Malta’s countryside is about to show its true colours, with nature taking every opportunity to show off its best offerings.
Despite their minute size, the Maltese islands are home to an unending array of flowers and plants – a significant portion of which are indigenous, that is, native to our country.
All in all, it is estimated that there are around 1,200 species of indigenous plants around Malta and Gozo. If that wasn’t impressive enough, some of these species are endemic, meaning that they are only found in the Maltese islands. Cool, right?
But apart from being absolutely stunning to look at, said species are also vital to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems and a healthy environment – therefore, taking care of our flora is key to keeping our countryside up and thriving for many years to come.
It just so happens that a number of endemic and non-endemic plants growing in Malta have become critically endangered, putting at risk both the beauty of our natural environment as well as the proper functioning of our ecosystems.
Some of these species have been featured in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) publication titled ‘The top 50 Mediterranean island plants – Wild plants at the brink of extinction, and what is needed to save them’ (2005).
Here’s a sneak peek of some of these species – this way, you too can keep an eye out for them when out and about:
Maltese rock-centaury / Widnet il-Bahar (Cheirolophus crassifolious)
Known to grow on cliffs and coastal valleys, this flowering plant has been Malta’s national plant since 1973. Unfortunately, Maltese rock-centaury is nowadays considered to be critically endangered due to habitat loss. You can spot this plant along Malta’s western cliffs and around Wied Babu in the southeast of the island.
Maltese cliff-orache / Il-Bjanka tal-Irdum (Atriplex lanfrancoi)
This plant grows between 40 to 80 centimetres in height and is characterised by dense and branched foliage. Like the Maltese rock-centaury, this species is endemic to Malta and critically endangered. If you’re looking to spot one of these, your best bet would be to head to the sheer seaside cliffs found along the north-western and southern areas of Malta and Gozo.
Maltese everlasting / Is-sempreviva ta’ Ghawdex (Helichrysum melitense)
This brightly coloured species is rapidly declining in the wild due to habitat loss, however, it is notably easy to cultivate, making it rather popular amongst locals. Interestingly, the Maltese everlasting’s flowers smell like curry and, when kept dry indoors, said flowers retain their original colours for many years.
Sea Daffodil / Gilju tar-Ramel (Pancratium maritimum)
Though rare, the Sea Daffodil is one of the most visually striking flowers, in part thanks to the fact that it flowers during some of Malta’s hottest and driest months. This plant is most often found growing in sand dunes and can endure its harsh environment thanks to the fact that its bulbs lay deep underground.
Sea Holly / Ix-xewk tar-ramel (Eryngium maritimum)
Though not endemic to Malta, the Sea Holly can be spotted around the country’s sand dune communities, which are already rather rare. Luckily, the remaining sand dunes in Malta are now under protection through the Natura 2000 network. This plant grows between 20 to 60 centimetres in height and produces small white or blue flowers.
Interesting stuff, right?
Learn more about some of Malta’s most interesting and endangered species of flora and fauna by checking out the Environment and Resources Authority’s BioSnippets initiative. It’s sure to keep you busy looking out for rare plants on your next nature walk!
Doing your part in helping to prevent the aforementioned species from going extinct is actually super easy.
Firstly, learning about Malta’s biodiversity and its flora will help you become better informed about which species of plants are endangered – plus, there’s nothing quite like sharing some environmental wisdom with your friends and families.
If you encounter any endangered species during your nature walks, make sure to enjoy them at a distance and to inform your fellow trekkers about the species’ significance. Naturally, refrain from picking or trampling on any plants when out and about in nature. A seemingly inconsequential action can have damning effects on Malta’s biodiversity!