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Appreciating the richness of our country’s biodiversity

The autumn grape hyacinth.

The autumn grape hyacinth.

Last Sunday I was at l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa taking pictures of the fauna and flora. Until 50 years ago the area consisted mostly of garigue habitat, i.e. rocky ground with depressions and fissures containing a thin layer of soil.

Many species of aromatic shrubs such as the Mediterranean thyme grow in such a habitat. The thyme provides the nectar to bees which produce the much sought-after thyme honey for which the area around Mellieħa was well known.

A few decades ago it was decided to replace this important habitat with woodland. Most of l-Aħrax nowadays consists of low trees under which grow non-indigenous plants, especially the Cape sorrel (ħaxixa Ngliża).

Here and there one still finds small patches with plants that must have survived from the time the area was still garigue.

Among these patches, on Sunday I found the autumn narcissus (narċis imwaħħar) and the autumn grape hyacinth (ġjaċint tal-ħarifa). The latter is a small plant with blue bell-shaped flowers. This is the only species of grape hyacinth that flowers in the autumn. It grows in patches of soil in garigue habitat in a small number of localities and I had not seen it for a number of years, so I spent some time taking pictures of the small interesting flowers.

What struck me most during the day was that as people arrived to picnic at L-Aħrax, most of them seemed oblivious of their surroundings. They saw the trees but did not distinguish between the different species and I was sure they had not heard the robins singing loudly in the trees beneath which they were sitting. They did not even notice the different flowers, some of which ended up crushed under their feet.

I do not expect others to be expert naturalists but I realised that by not being aware of the fauna and flora of the Maltese islands, many fail to fully appreciate the richness of our country’s biodiversity.

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