Saturday, May 19, 2012

Appreciating the richness of our country’s biodiversity

Autumn grape hyacinth
Last Sunday I was at l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa taking pictures of the fauna and flora. Until fifty years ago the area consisted mostly of garigue habitat. This habitat consists of rocky ground with depressions and fissures containing a thin layer of soil. 

Many species of aromatic shrubs such as the Mediterranean thyme grows in such a habitat. The thyme provided nectar to bees which produced the much sought after thyme honey for which the area around Mellieħa was well known. 

A few decades ago it was decided to replace this important habitat with woodland. Most of L-Aħrax nowadays consists of low trees under which grow non-indigenous plants especially the Cape sorrel (ħaxixa ngliża).

Here and there one still finds small patches with plants that must have been present when the area was still garigue.

Among these patches last Sunday I found the autumn narcissus (narċis imwaħħar) and the autumn grape hyacinth (ġjaċint tal-ħarifa). The latter is a small plant with blue bell-shaped flowers. This is the only species of grape hyacinth that flowers in the autumn. It grows in patches of soil in garigue habitat in a small number of localities and I had not seen it for a number of years so I spent some time taking pictures of the small interesting flowers.

What struck me most during day was that as people arrived to picnics at L-Aħrax most of them seemed oblivious of their surroundings. They saw the trees but did not distinguish between the different species and I was sure that they had not heard the robins singing loudly in the trees beneath which they were sitting and they did not notice the different flowers some of which ended up crushed under their feet. 

I do not expect others to be expert naturalists but I realised that by not being aware of the fauna and flora of the Maltese islands many fail to fully appreciate the richness of their country’s biodiversity. 

This article was written in The Times on 26.10.11

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