September Plant of the Month: Maltese Salt Tree (MT: Xebb)

 Maltese Salt Tree (MT: Xebb) Salsola melitensis

Photo by Annalise Falzon

A palaeoendemic which chose our islands to settle in, the Maltese Salt Tree is a relict species from the Ice Ages. Mostly overlooked due to its lack of flashy flowers, this cliffhanger of limestone cliffs often is the only greenery to be seen all year round along the coast. It especially prefers Globigerina Limestone coasts but inland it is also found on hills such as the Citadel in Gozo. Highly adapted to harsh drought, high salinity and extreme vertical surfaces with very little to hold on to, the Maltese Salt Tree is a true showcase of the resilience of plants. Growing as a shrub, it forms a thick sturdy trunk with trailing stems and spreading roots for strong anchorage. The canopy of dense foliage consists of cylindrical succulent leaves which enable it to tolerate saltiness (as the generic name Salsola indicates) and get by with a very low water budget. 

It would be very interesting to study the diversity of creatures, from insects to birds, that must make use of its canopy’s shelter and cooler microclimate – especially in such harsh exposed sites where it surely provides numerous ecological roles. Research on past human uses of this endemic plant seems to be lacking despite it being such an ancient component of our landscape.

Refer to this great treasure trove of a website for more information: 

Phots and text by Annalise Falzon

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