Some trees of Malta

November 20, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sandro Lanfranco

 A new and updated book about Maltese trees could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Trees have been in the news almost every week and almost always for the wrong reasons. Over-development, upgrading of the road network and accident prevention, to name a few, have all been used as justification for the removal or  mutilation of old, mature trees in recent months. This general regard for trees as expendable ornaments of landscape reminds us we are still a very long way from appreciating them as an integral part of our environment, including our built environment.

This is why Alfred Baldacchino’s new book, Sigar Maltin – taghrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għajdut (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is so timely. It is an educational tool that, one hopes, will go some way towards raising awareness of what we have and of what we stand to lose.

It is not a comprehensive account of Malta’s trees, instead, the author chose 12 species and devoted a chapter to each, telling a story about every one tree, describing its natural history, horticulture, pests and diseases, cultural importance, historical background and conservation status.

The author includes an introductory chapter describing the Maltese environment and the biology of trees, a list of relevant legislation concerning trees, an extensive bibliography and a list of species with Maltese and English vernacular names accompanying the scientific  binomials. There is also a glossary defining both technical and unfamiliar non-technical terms.

The book is well-organised, written in refreshingly fluent Maltese and draws upon the author’s vast experience in this field. Descriptions of species are comprehensive and accompanied by a generous number of functional photographs. The author does not just describe the leaves, flowers and bark of each tree but also provides photos of seeds, fruits and other distinctive features, depending on the species. This is a very welcome addition as it is a feature missing from many  books  about Malta’s plant life.

The scientific aspect of Baldacchino’s writing is correct and updated, with only one or two very minor quibbles.

Appreciation of this book also revolves around an understanding of two key choices made by the author: species and language.

The species included are all native but are by no means all common. This is certainly a positive point as it introduces readers to trees that may have never seen.

Moreover, the author’s definition of a ‘tree’ is also quite inclusive and incorporates plants such as Spanish Broom and Lentisk that are probably better described as shrubs.

There is also no trace of alien trees in Baldacchino’s account. He is very much a ‘purist’ in this regard and these latecomer usurpers have no place in his book, in spite of their important ecological and cultural roles.

The author’s definition  of Maltin (Maltese) extends to species that have been recorded prior to 1500 and any species not present before that point are considered ‘alien’. Baldacchino, nonetheless, recognises that several trees, now considered native, were probably also introduced by humans in antiquity.

Baldacchino chooses the path less-travelled  and  writes  in Maltese. His reasons are twofold.

Firstly, while completely aware he is excluding much of his potential audience, he is reaching out to those who may be more comfortable reading in Maltese than in English, an unquantified cohort neglected by most local authors in this field.

Secondly, by writing in Maltese he is reinforcing and reviving a subset of vocabulary that is not in general use. The Maltese language has its own lexicon for trees but this is often supplanted by more general terms or by inclusion from other languages. Through his choice, the author is not only teaching about trees but is also teaching language.

The book will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of readers on natural history and melitensia in general. It will be appreciated by general readers as well as by students of the Maltese environment and those of the Maltese language.

One looks forward to seeing a version written in English for the benefit of a wider readership.

Sandro Lanfranco – Senior lecturer in biology at the University of Malta.


Ir-Rabat, is-Saqqajja u s-Siġar

October 29, 2013
It­-Tieta, 29 ta’ Ottubru, 2013

Massakru minn siġar fis-Saqqajja

Alfred E. Baldacchino

saqqajja trees1

Sur Editur,
Qrajt b’interess ir-rapport intitolat “Massakru minn si­ġar fis-Saqqajja, ir-Rabat” ippubblikat fil-ħarġa ta’ l-orizzont ta’ nhar it-Tlieta, 22 ta’ Ottubru.
Din il‑qerda ta’ siġar f’pajjiżna issa ilha għaddejja s-snin. Hija qerda bla rażan, bla raġuni, u milli jidher bla ħadd mhu lest li jerfa’ reponsabbiltà għaliha.
Il-fragmentazzjoni li teżisti fil-ħarsien tas‑sigar m’hi qiegħda tgħin xejn biex is-siġar li qegħdin jikbru f’pajjiżna jkunu mħarsin kif suppost.
Ftit tal-ħin ilu kont qiegħed nara programm ta’ diskussjoni fuq ONE TV fejn is-CEO tal-MEPA qal li l-ilqugħ u ż-żbir tas-siġar huma responsabbiltà tal-Agrikultura. Dan mhux korrett. Din ir-responsabbiltà kienet hemm taħt ir-regolamenti l-qodma tal-2001. Imma dawn ġew revokati u mibdula mill-MEPA stess fil-2012.
Illum il-MEPA hija l-awtorità kompetenti għall-ħarsien tas-siġar skont ir-regolamenti tal-ħarsien tagħhom li għamlet hi stess.
Naħseb li hemm bżonn immedjat li l-Prim Ministru jindirizza din il-fragmentazzjoni llum qabel għada biex ma tkompliex issir aktar qerda.



Sur Editur,
Wara li fil-ħarġa ta’ l-orizzont ta’ nhar it-Tlieta, 22 ta’ Ottubru, qrajt l-artiklu taħt ir-ras “Massakru minn siġar fis-Saqqajja, ir-Rabat”, inkompli nistaqsi lili nnifsi, għax milli jidher dawk responsabbli qatt ma ħassew l-obbligu li jagħtu kont ta’ għemilhom, x’inhi r-raġuni ta’ dan iż-żbir tas-siġar, speċjalment b’dan il-mod selvaġġ.
Jien, fl-opinjoni tiegħi, naħ­seb li kull ma qiegħed isir hu li s-siġar qegħdin jaqtgħu nifishom għax dawn mill-weraq jieħdu n-nifs.
Jien ngħix f’Toronto, belt mimlija siġar. Tant hawn siġar illi jekk jibdew jiżbruhom, kieku ma jispiċċaw qatt.

Toronto – il-Kanada



Concrete path choking trees

March 3, 2013


Sunday, 3rd March, 2013

Concrete path choking trees

 Juan Ameen

A set of old Aleppo trees on the pavement in Burmar­rad Road have been choked with cement as a con­tractor filled up the square soil bases, leaving the trunks sticking out.

The cementing of the tree bases, done a few weeks ago, has been slammed by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which said it was “appalled”.

The authority “is appalled that such methods of work are still carried out in this day and age,” a spokesman said.

The complete surfacing around tree trunks in cement “is not only insensitive to our environment but constitutes bad practice since it may adversely affect the tree growth,” the spokesman added. The planning authority said it was investigating the mat­ter to find those responsible for these works “so as to reinstate the site to the authority’s satisfaction”.

When contacted, Transport Malta, responsible for the arterial road, said the contractor had been instructed to rectify the situation. “The Contractor proceeded with works before receiv­ing detailed instructions. These works are not acceptable and the contractor has already been instructed to rectify,” a Transport Malta spokesman said.

The cementing of the tree bases was also slammed by biodiversity expert Alfred Baldacchino who said that it would damage and possibly endanger the trees. The trees absorb rainwater, which falls into the soil, and their roots need air. Once the roots grow out­ wards, then the cement would be damaged and peo­ple would complain that the trees were damaging the pavement, Mr Baldacchino said.

Mr Baldacchino had received photographs of the cemented bases and immediately reported it to the authorities and the planning authority, which informed him it would investigate the matter.  “The authorities’ appreciation of trees is nil- irre­spective of national and international obligations,” Instead of saying it was going to look into the mat­ter, the planning authority should hire a Contractor with the right machinery to break up the cement and send the bill to Transport Malta, he argued. “There is nothing to investigate – it’s dangerous to the tree and procrastinating doesn’t help”.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ­ – Alfred E. Baldacchino

According to the L.N. 200 of 2011 -­ Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, 2011 -­  MEPA, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is the Competent Authority responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

Provision 12: No person shall fell … or in any way destroy or attempt to destroy, damage or attempt to damage, any tree or part thereof listed in Schedule I or Schedule II … except by permission of the Competent Authority:

Gmail - FW: trees on Burmarrad-T'Alla w Ommu road

The soil was covered by concrete engulfing the tree trunk in the process. This needed a development permit from MEPA.

Provision 14: (1) No person shall dump or attempt to dump… chemical or any other substance near any tree listed in Schedule I or Schedule II … which may harm any such tree…

Provision 29: (1) Any person who: —

(a) fails to comply with any provision of these regulations,

(b) contravenes any restriction, prohibition or requirement imposed by or under these regulations, or

(c) acts in contravention of any provisions of these regulations, or

(d) conspires or attempts to conspire, aids or attempts to aid, abets or attempts to abet, counsels or attempts to counsel, procures or attempts to procure any other person to contravene the provisions of these regulations, or to fail to comply with any such provision, including any order lawfully given in terms of any provision of these regulations, or to contravene any restrictions, prohibitions or requirement imposed by or under the said regulations, shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.

Gmail - FW: trees on Burmarrad-T'Alla w Ommu road

The Ministry of Transport does not see any difference between a tree and  an electricity pole, while MEPA is looking at and investigating the matter.

The trees in question are listed in Schedule II of the Tree Protection Regulations:

Pinus halepensis ­ Żnuber; Siġar tal-Prinjol; Siġar tal-Arżnu; ­ Aleppo Pine; Jerusalem Pine

MEPA  has all the necessary legal tools, and also obligations, to protect Malta’s biodiversity, including trees. Unfortunately it cannot be said that it is on the side of the people who want to protect Malta’s natural heritage, when it comes to taking action.  This is so evident when MEPA is faced with great and irreparable damages to trees done by Government Ministries, mainly that responsible for transport and that responsible for landscaping. In such cases MEPA is completely impotent  (see mutilated trees on Rabat Road) 

This is just another strong justification that the protection of the Environment should never be merged or under the remote responsibility of any Planning Authority. 


Seminar on the benefits and use of trees

February 22, 2013

Introduction to Maltese native trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On Tuesday 10th February 2013, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group in collabortion with the Attard Local Coucil organised a seminar on The benefits and use of tree. 

The FAA Tree Group was established following the outcry against the wanton and  widespread destruction of urban trees both in Malta and Gozo by Government Ministries,  paid from public funds. The response for such a first activity of the FAA Tree Group was immediate:

  • there were more than 100 participants who not only followed the presentations with great interests, but also took notes;
  • asked a number of pertinent questions, and
  • also demanded more information and similar meetings on the better use and appreciation of Maltese indigenous trees.

The seminar covered information on Maltese indigenous trees and the need for more appreciation especially by those who are entrusted to protect them; the benefits that trees give to society and the environment, and also their contribution to the economical aspect. The need to prevent the introduction of invasive species which can devastate the Maltese ecosystem, was also highlighted.

The partecipants were also addressed with regards to the use and benefits of trees in the urban environment and how this can be undertaken in a professional way.

A short presentation on tree protection regulations was also given.

Following the seminar, the demand for copies of the presentations were more than expected

As a first additional step towards the aim of more appreciation and protection of trees, the slides (used as the basis but without any animation, used during the presentaiton) can be viewed on the following link