Flower of the month – April – Wild Orchids of the Maltese Islands

Pyramidal Orchid MT: Orkida Piramidali (Anacamptis pyramidalis) 

With the wide array of colours, shapes and scents of flowers bursting forth In early springtime it is very difficult to choose just one plant to focus on – so this time round we feature a selection from a group of plants known more for their exotic counterparts (grown on industrial scales to embellish homes and offices) and less for the tiny, curiously shaped orchids encountered locally in the wild.

Over 30 species of orchids have been recorded in the Maltese Islands, though only a handful of these  can be said to be widespread. Orchids flower for a short period of time after many long months lying dormant underground – the old Maltese name is curious in this regard as it shows its lifecycle: “Ħajja u Mejta” literally translating to Alive and Dead owing to its 2 tubers one of which is swollen while the other shrinks during the flowering period. February – April is usually the best months for delighting in encountering some of the main species dressed up in their curious and often elaborate mimicry costume and curious means of olfactory deceit to attract pollinators.

When out for a walk do tread lightly when visiting rocky garigue and steppe habitats as these little gems are often inconspicuous (some barely reach 20cm in height) with the exception of the brighter coloured, taller Common Pyramidal Orchid. On the subject of size, orchids retain the current record of producing the tiniest seeds ever!

We have included here four species of orchids flowering around this time of year – of these the Naked Man Orchid is one of the extremely rare species while the Mirror Orchid is just slightly less so. The other two can be encountered more easily though still cannot be described as “common”.

We highly recommend this locally unique and excellent guidebook for an in depth look into the fascinating world of the “Orchids of the Maltese Islands” by Stephen Mifsud – also available at our Community library or order your own copy here  http://www.maltawildplants.com/book_orchids.html?fbclid=IwAR3N4ck5uMqbZOhqmsMLSX-Ado4JjGPFfYU3LcQQQTHDXLq-clVexl8vEng

Note: All wild orchid species in the Maltese Islands are protected by law.

Small-lipped Ploughshare Orchid MT: Orkida tal-Ilsien Żgħir (Serapias parviflora)
Naked Man Orchid MT: Orkida tal-Werqa Fdewxa (Orchis italica)
Mirror Orchid MT: Dubbiena Kaħla (Ophrys speculum)

by Annalise Falzon