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Giant fennel – il-ferla – Ferula communis

Close-ups of Maltese nature plants around us

The giant fennel, or il-ferla in Maltese, is frequently found in Maquis, garigue and phrygana, steppes, country lanes and road verges, abandoned fields and disturbed ground.

The plant is perennial; stem stout, smooth, cylindrical, hollow and it grows up to 3m. The leaves are hairless, shiny, glaucous, finely divided into numerous thread-like lobes and prominent sheathing bases. The lower leaves have long stalks, the upper leaves with a shorter stalk, eventually much reduced to sheaths clasping them with the stem.

The flowers appear during March-June in large umbels, which are umbrella-shaped inflore­scences/bunches of flowers. The large umbels are seeds flattened, large, about 15mm long, striated due to numerous resin canals and with thin lateral wings.

The hollow stems are often collected by children and used in improvised games during outings. Its leaves are sometimes collected for flower arrangements, a practice more common in Malta than in Gozo. Easily distinguished from the Common Fennel and Field Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare and Ridolfia segetum, q.v.) from its more robust habit, thicker stem, shiny, darker, foliage, it’s larger and denser inflorescences, larger seeds and the lack of typical sweet fennel odours.

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