Thursday, January 3, 2013

The giant orchid – an endangered species

Giant orchid (Barlia robertiana)

The giant orchid is a rare endangered orchid that grows in a handful of localities including the garigue behind the Għadira Nature Reserve. It is a large winter-flowering species, which was discovered in Malta about twenty years ago.

The first flowers appear in December and usually disappear by February. Although it is a large orchid, local and visiting botanists had overlooked it probably because these tended to carry out fieldwork later in the season when more plants can be found and thereby missing these winter-flowering plants. At this time other orchids also start to flower including the brown orchid, which is much smaller and easily missed unless one knows what to look for.

The giant orchid is known in Maltese as orkida kbira. It is found growing in garigue, maquis, scrub, open woodland and roadsides throughout the Mediterranean. 

The few specimens found in Malta grow in open rocky areas. The specimens growing at Għadira are now threatened by a new road, which is being proposed to cut through the area. If built this road would destroy a large area of garigue, a rich habitat which has decreased because of lack of appreciation of its value and importance. 

Garigue supports a large percentage of the flora and fauna of the Maltese islands including many orchids and other rare species of plants. It is in garigue that the thyme, which provides the nectar for the Maltese honey, grows.

The new road should not be built, as it would result the destruction of another rich garigue area and the loss of more precious habitat. We have lost far too much countryside and what little is left should be protected and conserved.

This article was published in The Times on 07.01.09.

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