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The Maltese hyoseris

The Maltese Hyoseris, sometimes referred to as the Gozo Hyoseris, is a small shrublet belonging to the daisy family, bearing the scientific name Hyoseris frutescens. The name Hyoseris is composed of the words hyo, meaning swine or pig (derived from Greek χοίρος, choíros), and seris (from the Greek σερις, seris), meaning succory, a pot herb; this means swine succory, and refers to the use of the hyoseris plants, which are edible. The term frutescens is derived from Latin, and means shrubby.

The plant is known in Maltese as iż-Żigland ta’ Għawdex, with żigland being the name given to a number of composite flowers of the daisy family, while the relation with Għawdex (Gozo) is due to its world distribution.

This shrub is known from the world only from Malta and Gozo, and is therefore endemic to the Maltese Islands. It is typical of cliffs, cliff plateau, maritime garigue and rubble walls close to the sea, and is widespread along the southern to north-western areas of Gozo, including the Fungus Rock Nature Reserve. However, while widespread (but by no means common) in Gozo, it is very rare on Malta, where it is mostly confined to a limited area along the north-western cliffs, in Mellieħa area.

It is a small evergreen shrub of 5-30cm height, occasionally more, with robust, woody, densely branched habit, fleshy and lobed evergreen leaves and a strong and branched root-stock. The succulent leaves are an important adaptation for this perennial shrub, since it enables its survival in the Maltese dry and hot summer climate. The flower heads are yellow, flowering all year round.

This species was first described in 1988 by the Sicilian botanists Salvatore Brullo and Pietro Pavone from Dwejra (Gozo). Interestingly, the Maltese Hyoseris is probably the most ancient of the known Hyoseris species, which unlike this species are all essentially herbaceous.

Although widespread in Gozo, the Maltese Hyoseris is overall a rare species in Malta and is considered to be a species of international interest and is consequently protected by national legislation and one should not collect, uproot or cut this plant without prior permission from the Competent Authorities. In addition, MEPA is also helping to protect this important shrub and many other rupestral species through the designation of Special Areas of Conservation.

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