Why not use native plants for landscaping?

May 28, 2010

Sunday, 23rd May 2010

Why not use native plants for landscaping? Vincent Gauci, Sta Luċija

Environmental Landscapes Consortium (ELC) Ltd is the government contractor for the landscaping of our roads, roundabouts and centre strips. ELC is doing a good job. However, the consortium is quite wasteful with water and it is not difficult to realise that the taxpayer is paying a hefty price for this service. ELC should consider using flora of local genetic origin, i.e. native plants, for landscaping public green areas. Malta is endowed with a selection of scented, colourful and attractive native plants, some of which may be suitable for growing in public green areas. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. Many native plants have deepspreading root systems that protect the soil against erosion. Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, bees, birds and other animals. Moreover, native species require less watering and caring than imported horticultural species. Indeed, encouraging the development of indigenous plant communities in roundabouts and other public areas may also somewhat compensate for the destruction of native communities in the wild due to development.


Alfred E Baldacchino  (5 hours, 39 minutes ago) Why blame ELC for this rampage on trees going on all over the island. They are supposedly getting their policy from the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, unless of course the ELC drafts the policies themselves and also implement it. If policies are being made by the MRRA, who in such cases also issues permits for such ‘pruning’ then I am afraid that at the MRRA there are none who can distinguish between a tree and an elephant. If policies are being drafted by the executers, then this is very highly irregular and urgent administrative action is needed to correct this. Otherwise the rampage can only gather momentum, unfortunately financed by public monies. This is one of the reasons why such a mentality is doing so much damage to the Maltese natural environment, when one also considers the uncontrolled introduced species, and the spraying of herbicides on every plant that is regarded by these landscapers as a weed, amongst others. It is no wonder that in the year which is the UN and EU International Year of Biodiversity, an EU report has revealed that Malta trails miserably in biodiversity protection. This is just a living example.

Antoine Vella (1 day, 2 hours ago) Native plants would be cheaper than imported ones and ELC would make a bigger profit if they limited themselves to indigenous species. The reasons for growing exotic plants are others.

Annalise Falzon (1 day, 2 hours ago) @ Azzopardi native plants are boring?have you ever been on walk in our countryside?? There are about 800 indigenous plants on this rock! Join any nature walk to learn more or simply have a look at any flora guidebook and website for local species.

S.Zammit (1 day, 8 hours ago) I could not agree more with you Mr.Gauci! I’m no expert on local plants, but I think a patch of poppies, ‘lellux’ and ‘qarsu’ – to name the more common ones – is as striking as a mass of any other cultivated (read moneymaking!) flower….

Andrew Azzopardi (1 day, 8 hours ago) Sticking to ‘native’ species is impractical and boring. Imagine…….no citrus trees, no geraniums, no cacti, basically very little beyond carob trees and widnet il-bahar. And what is ‘native’ anyway?

D.Dalli (1 day, 4 hours ago) I agree with your, what is native anyway. What could have been introduced here a millenia ago could now erraneously be considered as native because the species is further found around the Mediterranean basin. One thing is for sure, and as again you, in my view, rightly state, if we had to stick to what some term native, this place would be boring and much of the trees etc will simply vanish. Agreed some have their particular over abundant thirst for water and compete with “native” species. So do many other things, including humans. 8000 years ago, humans were not indigenous to this place, should we all go, because we compete for a whole lot of resources with animals and plants. I am a firm believer that a responsible (and that is underlines) team of scientists should actually introduce other plants and trees in Malta, making sure they are of a species that don’t destroy what we have in a matter of months/years. Some plantsm, rather than compete alone,destroy and that is where i would be cautious. For example I would actually plant a whole lot of magnificant cactii at the bottom perimeter of Maghtab

Ramon Casha (17 hours, 8 minutes ago) Wow Andrew… you should get out more often – into the countryside in spring. We have an amazing variety of local plants of all colours. I have yet to see a sight as beautiful as a field covered in common “silla” in full bloom. We have flowering plants of all colours – some annual, some more permanent but there’s a great variety.

Paul Borg (1 day, 11 hours ago) Could profits on imported plants have something to do with it? Could the very perishability of foreign plants be their attraction? That way ELC has to keep on replacing them? Is it true that Polidano (aka Caqnu is one of the shareholders of ELC?) Is the care of our roundabouts an ELC monopoly, or does it get tendered out publicly, giving other companies a chance to win the contract?

T Camilleri (1 day, 9 hours ago) Paul Borg Money on imported plants certainly has got to do with it. We are paying millions to ELC apart from paying the wages of the ex-Agricultural Department employees who are seconded with ELC. This is what the people should be told and not that we have more beautiful roundabouts.

Trees and GDP

January 3, 2010

21 June 2009

Trees and GDP


Alfred E. Baldacchino

Some people might think that tree planting is just putting the potted tree into a hole in the ground, and perhaps watering it. Tree planting however involves much more than this and requires a plan of action, unless of course such tree planting is done for convenience rather than conviction. When planting a tree, one has also to take into consideration the economic, ecological and social aspects.

Ecologic aspects

There are trees and trees. Different trees grow in different types of habitats. One would not, for example, plant a tree, which grows along watercourses, such as a poplar or a willow tree, in a salt marsh. Neither should trees be planted on garigue, the richest habitat, as unfortunately happened in both cases. Similarly, no one would plant a salt loving tree, like the tamarix, in a valley. These would jar with the environment, as much as a girl in bikini would be out of place in church. These are but some elementary points with regard to the planting of indigenous tress propagated from local stock.

Imported alien species of trees should be handled with the utmost attention and planning. Some of these imported alien species can, and have, become invasive because of lack of planning. As examples one can mention the eucalyptus, the  acacia, the castor oil tree, the tree-of-heaven and the Brazilian pepper, among others. The application of precautionary principle is of utmost importance when it comes to importing living species, not excluding trees, be they exotic or  indigenous. Such imported species also carry with them the possibility of giving a free ride to other species, which can have a very negative ecological, economical and social impact. The recent introduction of the red palm weevil, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the tomato leaf miner, the citrus white fly, the Geranium Bronze Butterfly, and a number of other species including molluscs, flies, wasps, are all taking a stronger hold and impacting the Maltese ecosystem.

Social aspects

Planting trees without any plan of action can also have a social impact, both if the trees are planted in the wild and also if they are planted in urban areas. As an example, take the number of imported Australian eucalyptus trees planted both in the rural and urban environment. Besides the negative aesthetic impact they have, eucalyptus trees rely heavily on underground water; in fact, they are used to dry marshes. The number of eucalyptus groves growing in rural areas, notably in Gozo, without doubt are affecting the supply of underground water in the island, particularly the surrounding fields, to the extent that farmers have to look for alternative sources of water, either from ‘new’ boreholes, or by obtaining water from other sources. The domino effect of having eucalyptus trees growing next to farmers’ fields, are making it more difficult and problematic for farmers to cultivate their fields, with the result that there is a possible smaller output from the cultivated fields, and more expensive produce. Naturally, the unnecessary waste of this natural resource – ground water – cannot be ignored.

Economic aspect

The more the social and ecologic considerations are ignored, the more negative the economic impacts are. Without a proper plan of action, society is burdened with cost externalities, that is, costs which are not borne by those involved in tree planting – mainly the importers of trees, or landscapers.

As an example, one can refer to the now established invasive alien species, the red palm weevil (RPW), which was imported with palm trees. The RPW is devastating palm trees in the Maltese Islands, be they historic, aesthetic, indigenous, public, or private. Many are spraying living palm trees in the hope of saving them, or cutting and transporting dead trees, naturally personally paying for such unforeseen and unwanted costs. These are some of the externalities being paid by society due to the lack of an official policy and lack of foresight and planning by those who were involved in the introduction, naturally unintentionally, of the RPW, but who, notwithstanding, pocketed the profits from such commercial activities.

Growing indigenous trees locally

The Gross Domestic Product is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders and sold on the market in a specific time period, usually one year. Tree planting can contribute to the GDP of the country, if there is a proper plan of action.

In another section of the press, it was officially stated that seeds from local indigenous trees are being sent to Italy so that they can be propagated there, and then re-imported as potted plants. This is indeed unbelievable in this day and age when Malta is party to a number of international biodiversity conventions, all of which highlight the need to protect indigenous biodiversity. This might also give the impression that Maltese gardeners, who have been handling seeds ever since man set foot on these islands, are today incapable of propagating indigenous trees. It can also give the impression that there is some sort of Midas magic touch in this policy.

A proper plan of action for the planting of indigenous trees, besides contributing to the Maltese GDP, can also contribute to the balance of payments. This can be achieved if indigenous seeds are collected, sown, cared for, distributed, sold, planted and distributed locally. This creates a number of different unlimited green jobs, besides completely eliminating the possibility of importing any IAS, diseases or viruses, which are all possible under the present policy of importing plants and trees, and which has happened in some cases. It would also ensure that the local gene pool of indigenous trees is not polluted. Besides, it contributes to the better balance of payments, less money going overseas for something that can be done much better and more efficiently locally. Furthermore, money, which is being uselessly spent overseas, can have a much needed multiplier effect if it is spent locally. New green jobs for locals will be created, the ecosystem will benefit, and society will not be asked to pay, in cash or in kind, for externalities, as it is doing at present. The value of such goods and services would also be reflected in the local GDP.

An official urgent policy in this field is urgently needed if, IF, what is officially said and written on the protection of biodiversity, is to be taken seriously.

Mr Baldacchino is a Planning and Environmental manager