This species is restricted to the western cliffs of the island of Gozo and Fungus Rock Nature Reserve. It is probably extinct on the island of Malta. Helichrysum melitense has a patchy distribution and mainly grows on intact limestone coastal cliffs and scree, preferring full sun. Occasionally it may also be found along the more accessible plateau on top of the cliffs .
Helichrysum melitense is a low shrub with dense foliage, rarely exceeding 50 cm in height. The stems and foliage appear whitish due to a dense cover of woolly hairs. The leaves are spatula-shaped and rounded at the end. This plant usually flowers from May to June producing dense clusters of bright yellow flower heads. Fruiting occurs in summer and early autumn. Its small seeds are attached to a parachute-like structure which helps in wind dispersal. The leaves have an intense aromatic smell.
This species is very ornamental and could be cultivated. Several other Helichrysum species are used to cure asthma and rheumatism, but there is no evidence of this species being used for medicinal purposes.
This species has been categorized CR (Critically Endangered) according to IUCN Red List Criteria B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v). Only one population of a few thousand individuals remains on Gozo and Fungus rock, covering an area of less than 25 km2. While the number of individuals growing on the inaccessible cliffs seem to be stable, there is a decline on the more accessible plateau.
Cliff habitats are endangered or have already collapsed due to pressure waves from the explosions of nearby limestone quarrying. To a lesser extent, dust from the quarries may also pose a threat. Regeneration of this species is low, possibly due to insects eating the seeds, which jeopardizes the re-establishment of this species where it was once found. Introduced alien plant species pose serious problems, especially Opuntia ficus-indica, Agave americana and Carpobrotus edulis, which are colonizing the cliffs.
Urbanization and tourism are dramatically increasing in this species' habitat on the plateau. Other threats include wild collection for ornamental purposes as well as the recent construction of kiosks and boat-houses near the shore.
Legally: Internationally this species is listed in Appendix I of the Bern Convention and in Annexes II and IV of the EC Habitats Directive as a priority species, since Malta's EU accession in May 2004. On the national level, it is protected by the Flora and Fauna Protection Regulations of 1993. Part of the cliffs on Gozo is protected locally as a Special Area of Conservation. Fungus Rock (il-Gebla tal-General) is a Strict Nature Reserve. Access is forbidden, valid scientific reasons excepted.
Legal protection of all those parts of the cliffs on Gozo supporting the species is desirable. Legal protection (e.g. against illegal dumping) must be strengthened to protect this species and its habitat. A management plan for the western cliffs on Gozo is needed and it should include the requirements of Natura 2000, to attain sustainable tourism in the area. Efforts should be made to re-introduce the species on the main island of Malta, and ex situ propagation for ornamental purposes should be encouraged. More studies are needed to monitor the decline of the specimens on the plateau.
English name: Araar Tree It is called by various other names, including: Sandarac Gum Tree; Barbary Arbor-Vitae; Alerce; Mediterranean Alerce; Citron-Wood Tree; and Maltese name: Known as Gharghar or Sigra tal-Gharghar. The origin of this name is Semitic, derived from the Arabic word 'ar'ar. Scientific name: Tetraclinis articulata (Vahl) Masters
General Distribution: This tree is confined to the island of Malta and the region of Murcia in Spain (in a small locality near Cartagena) in Europe. Nonetheless, it is widespread in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia, and reported from Libya).
Status in the Maltese Islands : In the wild, the tree is found only on the island of Malta, being completely absent from Gozo, Comino and the minor islets. It is very rare, with some 100 trees still surviving in the wild, most of which occur in Northern Malta. Used to occur in various other areas, like Eastern Malta, localities from which it disappeared centuries to decades ago.
Height and shape : It is an evergreen tree reaching a height of about 15m with a reddish-brown scented trunk. If it grows in rock fissures and rocky slopes it never attains such heights and may grow up to 5m in height. The tree bear characteristic cones
Conservation Measures : As from 16th January, 1992, it has been declared the Maltese National Tree. * Listed in the Council of Europe's List of Rare, Threatened and Endemic Plants of Europe. * Legally protected in the Maltese Islands as from 1993 (by virtue of Legal Notice 49 of 1993 published under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act (Act V of 1991). * Listed in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants as a rare species. * Listed in the Red Data Book for the Maltese Islands as an endangered tree with a restricted distribution in the Maltese Islands and in the Mediterranean.
Cultural Importance : Some Maltese localities bear names related to the tree, as for example San Gwann tal-Gharghar, a locality located in what is nowadays better known as San Gwann. Other localities which were classically stated to bear their names form the tree (like Gharghur) are more probably derived from the local name Girgor (as indicated in old maps). Since its declaration as the national tree it has also been depicted in a poster issued by the then Environment Secretariat, now the Environment Protection Department.
Economic Importance : The resin of the tree, called sandarac (hence one of its English names) has various industrial uses. It is also said to aid against teeth ruining and is hence used as "toothpaste". Sometimes used instead of Canada Balsam in the preparation of microscope glasses. Its wood/timber, called citron wood, is highly prized for fine woodwork such as cabinet-making and was in fact extensively used by Romans as building material.
Uses in Landscaping and Environmental Management : As most conifers, it can withstand drought to a considerable degree, and is capable of withstanding a certain degree of salinity as it grows in coastal localities. It would be an excellent tree for afforesting rocky slopes
Though it burns easily, the tree is not usually killed by fire since its vegetative growth is usually stimulated by fire. It produces shoots from a rootstock below ground level after the passage of fire.
Use in afforestation : Very ornamental as a tree, and its use as such is increasing since its declaration as the national tree. Other Notes : Probably represents a relict species in Europe. It used to occur in other European countries prior to the ice-ages (as evidenced by fossils in France), and became restricted to Spain and Malta due to climate changes which eradicated the tree from the other European countries.
English name :Maltese Rock-Centuary. It is called by other names, like Maltese Knapweed or Maltese Centuary, but both are incorrect, in that our national plant is not a knapweed, and the Maltese Centuary is another plant (i.e. Centaurea melitensis). Maltese name :Known as Widnet il-Bahar. The translation of this name is Sea Scorpiurus, and is derived from the Semitic words widna (ear, but in Maltese also the name of scorpiurus plants) and bahar (sea). Scientific name :Palaeocyanus crassifolius (Bertoloni) Dostál
General Distribution : This plant is endemic to the Maltese Islands, being found only in Malta and Gozo in the world. Status in the Maltese Islands : It is rare with a restricted distribution in the Maltese Islands, being localised to the southern and western cliffs of Malta and the south-western cliffs of Gozo.
Height and shape : An evergreen shrubby plant with fleshy leaves shaped like a spoon-handle usually growing up to 50 cm. The leaves do not usually have a toothed margin (called serrations) but some plants, especially in Gozo, may show such serrations. By the end of May it starts to open its beautiful magenta coloured flower-heads which are borne on long stalks. Flowering continues till July .
Conservation Measures Taken: * As from 1971, it has been declared the Maltese National Plant. * Legally protected by virtue of Legal Notice 49 of 1993, published under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act (Act V of 1991). * Some of the cliffs on the island of Malta where this species occurs are protected as Areas of Ecological Importance by virtue of Gove rnment Notice 400 of 1996 published under the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 1992.
* Listed in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants as a rare species. * Listed in the Red Data Book for the Maltese Islands as a rare endemic plant with a restricted distribution in the Maltese Islands.
Cultural Importance : Besides its cultural importance as an endemic, this plant was, as stated previously, declared as the Maltese National Plant in 1971; it was subsequently depicted in a set of postage stamps and on a commemorative coin as well as on paper money. The emblem of the Society for the Study and Conservation of Nature, a local non-governmental organisation.
Economic Importance : It is said that the succulent leaves are edible. Cultivation : This is a very decorative plant that is quite easy to cultivate. It has been cultivated since its declaration as the Maltese National Plant, and can be easily found in public gardens
Other Notes : It represents a relict species probably in existence since the era before the Ice-Ages and represents a monotypic genus, i.e. a genus with only one species; is very important in that it is ancestral to the much widespread centuaries, knapweeds and star-thistles and is perhaps the remnant of an ancestral group from which the modern centuaries evolved