Maltese flora is a very important feature of the Maltese landscape. Not only does it contribute towards a more attractive and healthy environment, but it also has specific ecological value which should be protected as part of our natural Maltese heritage.
One of my most beautiful childhood memories consists of the almost weekly Sunday rambles in the Maltese countryside with my grandfather. He loved to take me with him while he explored the fast-receding unblemished pockets of indigenous rural wilderness around the island – be it the far-reaches of Selmun, Dingli Cliffs, Wied il-Għasel in Mosta, Miżieb, or Mellieħa.
Looking back, those walks amongst the thistles and the bracken were surely the origin of my great love and respect for nature today. Of course, at the time, one of the things I enjoyed most during our walks was running and playing surrounded by the many coloured flowers which are part and parcel of the Maltese scenery. There are so many different species of Maltese wild flowers! So, here are some of my favourites.
Maltese Rock Centaury (Widnet il-Baħar)
Like every Maltese child, I first heard about our national plant while I was at school. It was to be many years till I actually saw one while meandering around the cliffs on our coast, which is not surprising, since this plant was at the time being threatened due to habitat loss.
During later years, it started to be cultivated as a species and even used to adorn parks, roundabouts and other public places. The purple flowers relevant to this endemic Maltese plant blossom from May to July. It is a protected plant due to its potential endangerment. It mostly grows naturally along the coralline limestone cliffs found towards the south-west of mainland Malta and Gozo.
Crown Daisy (Lellux)
The crown daisy is undoubtedly one of Malta’s most common flowering plants, found embellishing the landscape with its yellow flowers between winter and early summer. It is a local flower but found all over the Mediterranean. It might not be so surprising to learn that the crown daisy originates from the sunflower family from a group of flowers collectively known as chrysanthemums. Its brilliant yellow is such a staple of the Maltese countryside that we’ve even incorporated it into our vocabulary of referral words, often referring to something as being isfar lellux – as yellow as a crown daisy.
Cape Sorrel (Ħaxixa Ngliża)
Another common yellow flower found all over the islands, the cape sorrel is not actually a Maltese native species, since it’s actually of South African origin. Also called qarsu for its markedly sour bitter taste, this plant was apparently introduced in Malta during the first years of British rule. It subsequently adapted so easily to the Maltese environment that it fast established itself as the island’s foremost wild plant, displacing even the crown daisy, which is why it surely deserves a mention.
The Red Poppy (Pepprina Ħamra)
This is one of the most popular wildflowers in Europe, both for its beautiful scarlet hue and for its significance as a World War II memorial. Although the crimson petals are markedly fragile, these spring flowers have long been used as a symbol of sleep and death, since its derivatives can be used to make opium. Poppy seeds are also edible and used in the baking of cakes and other desserts. There are many different types of poppies, but the red one is the one most commonly seen in Malta. It’s usually found growing in fields during spring and early summer.
These pretty blue flowers tend to grow between January and July. Their apparent fragility is very deceptive, since the stem and even flowers themselves are usually replete with tiny thorns. As a herb, Borage is generally used in herbal remedies for rheumatism, eczema and to lower blood pressure. Its star-shaped flowers and stem are bristly and hairy, and it favours well-drained soil.
Maltese Toadflax (Papoċċi)
I just loved playing with these when I was little! This cute plant, with its violet-blue and white flowers, generally thrives within exposed pockets of stony soil on rocky ground close to the sea. It is endemic to the Maltese islands, and I remember that the particular shape of the flower used to remind me not so much of a papoċċ – bed slipper – as that of a mouth, since one could open and close it if one squeezed it at the tip. The flowers grow from March to May in garigue rocky terrain, like that found in Selmun and Mistra.
Photo: Stephen Mifsud, MaltaWildPlants.com
Further reading: Edible wild plants from around the globe.
Respect nature and it will provide you with abundance!