The Ophrys melitensis or Maltese spider orchid (brimba sewda) is one of twenty four species of plants endemic to the Maltese islands.
It is one of a small number of insect orchids that flower in spring. This orchid has a velvety reddish brown petal with variable metallic blue markings in the centre of it.
Another endemic orchid is the Maltese pyramidal orchid (orkida piramidali ta’ Malta) but the best known Maltese endemic is Malta’s national plant, the Maltese rock centaury (widnet il-baħar).
It was first described by Stefano Zerafa a Maltese doctor with a keen interest in the botany of the Maltese islands.
The word endemic is often confused with indigenous. An indigenous species is a plant or animal that is native in a particular place. The opposite of indigenous is non-native.
In the Maltese countryside we find many species of non-native species including the Cape sorrel (ħaxixa Ingliża) a native of
Endemism on the other hand means that a species is found in a defined area. Thus Maltese endemic plants and animals are found in
There are also regional endemics. In the case of
Many endemic species are found on islands as a result of biological isolation which allows a species to evolve separately and differently from the same species in another area.
The number of endemic species in the Maltese islands is lower than on other Mediterranean islands.
This is probably a result of millennia of human pressure which must have led to the extinction of many species.
Endemic species are considered as internationally important.
Because of their restricted range they are often in danger of extinction or given a vulnerable status are often protected by means of national and international legislation.
This article was published in The Times on 11.04.2012