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Il-Qarsu

Winter's crowning glory: the Cape Sorrel One of the most common flowering plants at the moment is the Cape Sorrel which grows abundantly in most types of ground. This plant is so well spread in Malta that one would automatically assume it’s a native species. The truth, however, is that it’s only been on the Islands for two hundred years. The Maltese call the Cape Sorrel Haxixa Ngliza; literally, the English plant. It is also called Qarsu from the Maltese word for sour, due to the sour-taste of its stalk which can be chewed for an acidic sensation. The plant is in fact a strong source of oxalic acid. The Cape Sorrel which we today take so for granted as part of our winter landscape, is in fact of South African origin from the Cape area. This area, source of so many modern day quality wines, boasts a Mediterranean climate which makes one understand why the Cape Sorrel adapted so easily to the Maltese environment. Why do we call this plant the “English Plant”? According to tradition, the plant was introduced to Malta in the first years of British rule by an English lady who was convinced of its ornamental qualities. The lady gave a few samples to the curator of the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Floriana but the plant subsequently escaped from the gardens and proceeded to spread across the Maltese countryside at a very fast pace. So fast was its spread that within a few decades it had established itself as Malta’s foremost wild plant, surpassing the local crown daisy. As if this was not enough, the plant eventually also managed to escape from Malta and spread along the entire Mediterranean basin and up the Atlantic coast of Europe to colonise even parts of South Devon in the United Kingdom! It is an amazing fact when one considers that a few samples from South Africa that managed to take root in Floriana eventually spread over such a huge territory. All the European Cape Sorrels in existence today may lay claim to being relatives of the Floriana specimens originally introduced by the English lady two hundred years ago. Another interesting observation relating to the Cape Sorrels of Maltese origin is that since the original specimens introduced by the lady were all of the same gender, the plants only reproduce asexually, that is without producing


seeds. The Cape Sorrel in Malta, the Mediterranean and Europe in fact only reproduces through bulbs of the same gender as the original. The Haxixa Ngliza is so common that one rarely ever stops to notice it. In some places it literally forms carpets of delicate flowers that light up in a fluorescent yellow once bathed in sunlight. The flowers close at night to reopen again once in the sun’s rays. It is at its peak from late December to February. So do stop and have a good look at this unassuming invader which has so easily established itself as part of our natural landscape, and which has used this small archipelago as a springboard to launch an even bigger colonisation of an entire region!

National, Native And Popular Flowers Of Malta National Flower of Malta

Found only in Malta, the Maltese Centaury (Paleocyanus crasifoleus) was adopted as thenational flower of Malta in the early 1970s. The flower is a capitulate head composed of 56 rows of involucral bracts and a top of numerous tubular florets having a characteristic purple colour. Having about 30-40mm long heads and about 35-50mm across, the slightly fragrant smell of the flower somehow resembles that of tea. Other Native and popular flowers of Malta The position of the Maltese Islands in the centre of the Mediterranean gives a special significance to their flora and the Maltese flora partakes of the floras of all the other parts of the Mediterranean, thus one finds species with eastern, western and North African affinities. The Maltese vascular flora comprises about1,000 species of which some 800 are indigenous, the rest being naturalised aliens. Some of the Popular flowers native to Malta, grown here are, Zaghfran tal Blat Sand Crocus, Succulent, Buzbiez Fennel, Saghtar, Cynara cardunculus, Fidloqqom, Lingliza Sewda, Blue Stonecrop, Crimson pea, Lellux (Crown Daisy), Barbary nut iris, Erika, Red Campion and Asiatic lily.

Malta's National Flower & il-Qarsu  
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