The Mediterranean linseed is an annual plant indigenous to the countries surrounding the Mediterranean but is now found in other areas with similar climate including California, parts of Chile and south-western Australia.
In the Maltese islands it is not common but can be found growing in spring in rocky areas, garigue and steppe habitat. In some areas outside its natural range, as often happens with alien species, it outcompetes native plants and sometimes Iit becomes a pest.
It is an erect plant with the upper part of the plant forming an inflorescence consisting of white flowers which are sometimes tinged with pink. The flowers resemble those of the snapdragons and in fact for a long time this species was considered to belong to the same family as snapdragons. It is nowadays placed in the broomrape family. It is a semi-parasitic plant that is it obtains some of the water and nutrients from the roots of other plants particularly various species of grasses.
The Mediterranean linseed has several other names including white bartsia or Mediterranean bartsia. In Maltese it is known as perlina bajda. A perlina is a sugar-coated almond usually associated with carnival time and bajda is white.
The scientific name of this species is Bellardia trixago. Bellardia commemorates Carlo Antonio Lodovico Bellardi, an Italian botanist born in 1741. He was professor of botany at the University of Turin and built a herbarium from plants he collected in the Piedmont region and Switzerland. Bellardi died in 1826.
The yellow eyebright, which is also known as yellow bartsia or yellow glandweed, is a closely related species. It is known in Maltese as perlina safra. It is a scarce species that can grow in good numbers in a small number of localities. It is similar in shape and structure to the Mediterranean linseed but has yellow flowers. Like its white-flowered relative it is also semi-parasitic and has also found itself in other continents in areas with climates similar to that of the Mediterranean region.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 26 June 2014.