Ecology

Dwejra's Natural Environment

What will you learn in this section?

What are the various species that make Dwejra their home?

Dwejra is not an easy place for organisms to live in.  Conditions are harsh: soil is scarce, and sea spray by and large reaches the entire site.  Nevertheless, we find a plethora of species that are well adapted to the tough conditions of Dwejra.  The number of ecological systems at Dwejra is truly diverse and runs the gamut of garrigue, dry valleys, steppe, rocky shores, majestic cliffs, freshwater pools and shingle beaches amongst others.  Each of these hosts a number of species that have fine-tuned their abilities to survive in the conditions imposed by their surrounding environment.

The freshwater pool of Il-Qattara at Dwejra. (Image: J. Caruana)

Amongst the menagerie of ecosystems present at Dwejra, the cliffs – whilst stunning to the eye – are the most perilous for life forms to thrive in, as they are constantly under the attack of sea spray, and have to take the brunt of the wind.  By their very nature, they are a vertical environment which makes it difficult for plants to fasten themselves securely.  Moreover, soil is scarce, as is water.  And yet, at these sites we find beautiful examples of endemic plants such as Maltese Everlasting and Maltese Cliff Orache.

Birds such as Scopoli’s Shearwater and Yelkouan Shearwater make these cliffs their home – and it is a magical experience to venture to Dwejra at night and listen to their haunting, eerie cries.  Encroaching light pollution is a threat to these birds, as they can become confused and disorientated by bright light, a behaviour that was also witnessed on site by the author himself.

Cliffs constitute a difficult environment for life to flourish, but some species are not discouraged. (Image: J. Caruana)
The freshwater pool of Il-Qattara. (Image: J. Caruana)

Valleys such as Wied il-Kbir are well placed to collect water, and therefore can support life that would find it hard to thrive in other environments at Dwejra.  Particularly noteworthy is the water flea Moina brachiata, a crustacean that is found nowhere else in the Maltese islands but this valley. Water reaches this valley slowly, as evidenced by the type of trees that we find here, such as Carob and Eucalyptus.

The infamous Fungus rock is most well known for the plant Cynomorium coccineum, which was thought to be a fungus with medicinal properties, and became known as ‘Maltese Fungus’.  In reality, it’s not a fungus but a parasitic flowering plant, also known amongst the Bedouin as tarthuth.  The Fungus rock also hosts the lizard Podarcis filfolensis ssp. generalensis, a subspecies of the Filfola lizard endemic to this rock.

Freshwater pools such as the one at Il-Qattara are a haven for a diverse assortment of plants and creatures.  The name of this site, a literal translation of which would be ‘The Dripper’ is quite apt, seeing as how all year round there is a trickle of water in a wall that (via an artificial sill) feeds into a pool that never dries out completely, not even during the harsh Maltese summer.

The Fungus rock, home to Cynomorium coccineum. (Image: J. Caruana)

The Flora of Dwejra

Different plants are found in various areas of Dwejra.  The majestic cliffs host the Maltese Cliff Orache (Cremnophyton lanfrancoi), Maltese Everlasting(Helichrysum melitense) and Maltese Salt Tree (Darniella melitensis).  All of these are endemic species of the Maltese islands, and it is perhaps ironic that they are found in such inhospitable places as cliffs.  However, such a remote and harsh environment is the least disturbed by human presence, making it a worthy sanctuary for these plants.  The latter two of these species can also be found away from the cliff faces; indeed there are copious examples of Maltese Everlasting above Qawra (simply known in Maltese as Fuq il-Qawra); this site hosts the only substantial colony of this endemic species, making it hugely important.  

Below you may find pictures of some of the plants and flowers you will encounter at Dwejra.  Hopefully this will be of help on your next walk-about.  All pictures on this page were taken on site at Dwejra by the author.  You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge and view them better.  (The list below is by no means complete yet, and more additions will be made to this section in the near future.)

The Maltese Everlasting

This beautiful but threatened plant, known in Maltese as Sempreviva t’Għawdex, is endemic to the Maltese islands.  It is listed in ‘The Flora’ section (Lanfranco, 1989) of The National Red Data book (ed. Schembri and Sultana, 1989) and is protected by law.  Dwejra, specifically Fuq il-Qawra​, hosts the only substantial population of this plant species.

MALTESE SALT TREE (DARNIELLA MELITENSIS)

Known in Maltese as either Xebb or Siġra tal-Irmied (Ash tree), this threatened plant is endemic to the Maltese islands and is listed in ‘The Flora’ section (Lanfranco, 1989) of The National Red Data book (ed. Schembri and Sultana, 1989).  This plant is protected by law.

TREE SPURGE (EUPHORBIA DENDROIDES)

This Maltese indigenous plant is known in Maltese as Tengħud tas-Siġra and is protected by law.

MALTESE STOCKS (MATTHIOLA INCANA SSP. MELITENSIS)

Known in Maltese as Giżi ta’ Malta, this Maltese endemic species is considered threatened and is listed in ‘The Flora’ section (Lanfranco, 1989) of The National Red Data book (ed. Schembri and Sultana, 1989) and is protected by law.

MALTESE SEA-CHAMOMILE (ANTHEMIS URVILLEANA)

This plant is endemic to the Maltese islands and known in Maltese as Bebuna tal-Baħar. It is considered threatened and listed in ‘The flora’ section (Lanfranco, 1989) of the National Red Data Book (ed. Schembri and Sultana, 1989).

maltese_sea_chamomile

GREY BIRDSFOOT TREFOIL (LOTUS CYTISOIDES)

Known in Maltese as Għantux tal-blat.

lotus_cytisoides

EGYPTIAN ST JOHN WORT (HYPERICUM AEGYPTICUM)

Known in Maltese as Fexfiex ta’ l-Irdum, this threatened plant is indigenous to the Maltese islands and listed in ‘The Flora’ section (Lanfranco, 1989) of The National Red Data book (ed. Schembri and Sultana, 1989).

PINK PIROUETTE (SILENE COLORATA)

This dainty flower is a common one on the Maltese islands.  It is known in Maltese as Ilsien l-Għasfur (a literal translation of which would be “Bird’s tongue”) and Sieq iz-Zakak (‘Wagtail’s foot’).  In English, it is also sometimes referred to as Mediterranean Catchfly or Dwarf Pink Star.

The Fauna of Dwejra

This section is still under construction. Please check back later

The author would like to thank Ms Annalise Falzon for very helpful assistance with the section on plant species.  The excellent Malta Wild Plants website was also found to be a most valuable reference.
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