Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1977)2(191-192)
S. M. HASLAM, P. D. SELL & P. A. WOLSELY, A Flora of the Maltese Islands, Malta University Press, 1977, pp. Lxxi-560, paper, 8vo. 70 plates with about 450 line drawings. Price: LM3.50.
This is the first complete flora of the Maltese Islands since J. Borg's Descriptive Flora of the Maltese Islands (1927), recently reprinted by O. Koeltz.
The opening chapters include information on geography, topography, climate, soils, vegetation and other physical aspects. A good proportion of the information given here is original. There is also a useful section on the history of the study of the Maltese flora, leaves the reader with the impression that hardly any work was done in this field in the period between the two floras. The flora includes descriptions of about 1,130 species (of which some 160 are commonly cultivated plants). Apart from the author's own observations, the records have been based mostly on the work of Grech-Delicata (1853); Sommier & Caruana-Gatto (1915); Borg (1927); G. Lanfranco (1955, 1969) and Kramer & Westra (1972). The way in which the writers quote the records is inconsistent since they fail to acknowledge a number of records given by the above and other authors. Thus they fail to quote Sommier & Caruana-Gatto for 200 records, G. Lanfranco for about 70, Kramer & Westra for 14. Only about a dozen of Borg's records have been overlooked but the authors seem to ignore completely the existence of his Third Supplement... (1935) with the result that some half-dozen newly recorded species are left out of the flora.
The authors also ignore the existence of a number of important papers published in The Maltese Naturalist. Considering that the most recent insertion in their Bibliography is dated 1975 it works out that 9 of the relevant papers appearing between 1970 and 1974 have been disregarded. It is evident that the authors had access to this periodical since they cite two papers from it. This resulted in the omission from the flora of more than 40 species and information (e.g. Centaurea pullata and Gaudiniopsis macro which should be replaced).
The status given to the plants included in the flora also shows a number of inconsistencies. Thus a number of cultivars and hybrids of Narcissus which very occasionally escape from cultivation are given a full treatment. Conversely such important taxa as Enarthrocarpus pter-ocarpus, Polygonum equisetiforme and Nicotiana longiflora are relegated to a brief mention. Various doubtful records appearing in the old floras have been included here without comment while many validly recorded and confirmed species in the recent papers of Kramer & Westra, E. Lanfranco and Silverwood (all cited in the Bibliography) have been left out of the flora completely and arbitrarily. Among victims of such treatment are Polygonum patulum, Chenopo-dium ficifolium, Ononis alopecuroides (a frequent plant), Cephalaria syriaca, Rumex obtusifolius (common) and Rumex sanguineus.
Some of the genera receive a poor treatment. Thus only four out of at least eight species of Rumex and only five out of nine species of Amaran-thus are recorded. Andropogon di'sta-chyus must have been omitted by oversight since this is common and well known. The authors also failed to take into consideration a number of recent revisions of genera such as those of Runemark, Pignatti and Steinberg for Parapholis, Phagnalon and Adonis respectively, all of which bear on the Maltese plants. They misquote [p.192] Sommier & Caruana-Gatto claiming that according to S. & C. G., Cerastium brachypetalum is more frequent than C. gtomeratum whereas S. & C.G. actually claim the reverse.
On the credit side I should mention the inclusion of four new records: Carex spicata. Origanum onites, Myrio-phyllum verticillatum and Paspnium dilatatum. Some of the misidentifications appearing in the older floras have been put right. These include Frcucinus angustifoiia, Carex otrubae, Onopordum argolicum and Aster squomatus, replacing F. excelsior, C. vulpino, O. sibthorpianum and A. subutatus respectively. Other positive features include the incorporation of a very useful glossary and the very low price which brings this relatively vast work within everybody's reach.
The illustrations are generally very well executed and accurately display the character of the plants they portray. It is a pity that as a result of the quality of printing and reduction, some of the diagrams have lost clarity. It is also unfortunate that some of the diagrams represent plants other than those which they are meant to portray. Thus "Gaiium aparine" is Rubia peregrina (which features twice in the same plate); "Vicia tetrasperma" is V. leucantha; "Franteenia levis" is F. pulverulenta; "Chenopodium album" is C. opuiifolium. The names of Feruia communis and with inventing new vernacular names where they do not exist but if it has to be done, this should be the responsibility of a board of botanists and linguists and not decided arbitrarily. Some of the new names are impractical, e.g. Widen il Gurdien Ideliek (Cerastium glomeratum); Kittien tal-Imharbat (Linum strictum) and Xnejn inhaxlet (sic) (Trifolium campestre & scabrum). Calling the Autumnal Scilla autumnalis: Ghansal tax-Xitwa (transl. "Winter Squill") is misleading. Silla Qatranija for Psoraiea bituminosa is superfluous since this plant already enjoys at least two vernacular names. Some of the new English names are not much better, e.g. Bloody Broom-rape (Orobanche sanguined). It is strange then that some well-established Maltese names have been omitted, e.g. Tuffieh is-Serp (Solarium luteum) and Ghallis (Notobasis syriaca).
In spite of the numerous technical faults outlined, this book is still valuable when considered simply as an identification guide. The incorporation of keys and the diagrams, especially the details given of the legumes of the many Medicago species and the flowers of Ophrys would make this book much easier to use than Borg's Flora. I urge anybody interested in identifying Maltese plants to get the book. I cannot help mentioning that had the authors taken the trouble to consult people actively working on the Maltese flora, all the technical faults mentioned could very easily have been averted.