Sunday, March 2, 2014

Yellow countryside carpet

Several species of plants with yellow flowers belonging to the mustard or cabbage family can be found growing in the Maltese countryside. Some such as the wild turnip are very common and grow in such profusion that they can carpet uncultivated fields in yellow.

One of them the wild turnip is known in Maltese as liftija.  This species flowers mainly from November to April. The plants found in Malta belong to a subspecies of a plant which exists in many subspecies and varieties. Many cultivated varieties of this species have been created by agronomist. These include the turnip, which in Maltese is known as nevew, and turnip rape from which a type of canola oil is made.

Rapini or broccoli rabe is a variety widely grown in Italy where it is known as cime di rapa. It originated in Italy but has been introduced by Italian immigrants to many parts of the world including the United States and Australia. It could probably grow very well in Malta during the winter months but as far as I know it has never been cultivated in the Maltese islands. Many kinds of vegetable which are grown in neighbouring countries would probably grow very well in the Maltese islands as well if only local farmers or vegetable gardeners would experiment with these varieties.

The wild turnip can be confused with the perennial wall rocket which is known in Maltese as ġargir isfar. This species flowers throughout the year although the number of plants in flower varies at different times of the year depending on rainfall. In summer the number of flowering plants is at a minimum while in September and October, after the first autumn rains, this species tends to be the most common yellow flowering plant.

The leaves of the perennial wall rocket are edible and can be used in salads. They have a strong flavour reminiscent of cress and rocket.

The two species, although very simila,r can be told about on close inspection by the shape of their leaves. The wild turnip has oval leaves with rounded ends while the perennial wall rocket has irregularly shaped leaves which give off a strong unpleasant smell when crushed.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 22 January 2014

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