Thursday, December 27, 2012

A plant that loves the sea

European searocket (Cakile maritima)

The European searocket is indigenous to Malta. Known in Maltese as kromb il-baħar, the plant grows mainly on sandy beaches. It starts flowering in December and remains in flower until August. This weekend I found it flowering at Għadira and Golden Bay.
The searocket is adapted to a harsh environment where few other species manage to survive. Its roots are surrounded by salty water and its leaves are often covered with sea spray. Sometimes, especially in inclement weather, the plants are completely covered with sand. By surviving under these difficult conditions, it faces less competition from other plants.
The plant is also found throughout Europe and North Africa and has been introduced in many other parts of the world, including such faraway places as the US and Australia. It has become very common in some countries and is considered a noxious weed.
The mustard or cabbage family, to which the searocket belongs, consists of about 3,700 species. Most species are found in the north temperate region with maximum diversity around the Mediterranean. Over 40 species are found on our islands.The European searocket is a member of the mustard family which includes commercially important species such as cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli. The seeds of members of the mustard family are produced in a capsule called siliqua. In the searocket, the siliqua is made of a light, corky substance that can float – a factor that helps the seeds disperse in water.
The flowers of this family are made up of four petals shaped like a cross. In the past, members of this family were known as crucifers, a word derived from crucis, the Latin word for cross.
This article was published in The Times on 19.12.12

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