Argotti Botanical Gardens and Resource Center is a place the professor cherishes! Like a homeowner who takes pride in showing his new home, the professor unveiled many new images and bits of information as we trekked through his abode. Now part of the University of Malta, the garden began in 1740 as a private garden of Bailiff Ignatius de Argote y Guzman. It now houses the national herbarium and a living collection of Mediterranean plants. In the early 19th Century, the government of Malta took over the garden and the University built and acquired a garden for medicinal and pharmaceutical pursuits as well as botanical use. In 1973, the government took it back from the university and the professor said some plants were lost. However in 1994, the garden was returned to the University and Dr. Joseph Buhaglar became the coordinator with a mission to increase the collection of Mediterranean plants, describing that Mediterranean plants include some from Southwest Australia, California, the Mediterranean basin, Cape Region and Chile. Species from all areas in the collection adapt somewhat, although Dr. Buhaglar has found that many do not change their so-called biological clocks in regard to seasons or do it very slowly (plants from the southern hemisphere having their summer during the Mediterranean winter).
Buhaglar works on a conservation project and recently was granted a coveted half million dollar award for propagation studies and projects. He is about to hire two additional staff members to add to his seven gardeners and many volunteers who work at the botanical gardens. He is proud that they have one of the largest collections of tactile succulents in the world, some of which are over 100 years old. The professor added that the wife of Professor John Borg donated many of the cacti and succulents to the gardens in 1945.
Currently the botanical gardens lead and teach students from all ages through the botanical gardens and share information about plants and how to utilize them.
Research is often focused on salty water because of the water issues in Malta, with scarce fresh water. Other research areas are on nitrates and phosphates, compost and how to put microorganisms into the soils to reduce droughts.
Buhaglar looks at chemicals in plants. Bio-active potential of medical plants is a particular interest area. For example, the oils in herbivores feel there is huge potential. Buhaglar offered some examples: the Ruscus hypophyllum, common name, Butcher’s Broom is related to asparagus and is a diuretic cacti; he showed us how the flowers are produced in the center of the cladodes, a profound adaptation.
As another example, Buhaglar shared the Tetraclinis articulata (common name: Sandarac Gum tree), the National Tree of Malta. The resin from the wood of the Sandarac tree has been used and studied for its propensity to calm. Related to the cypress tree, Buhaglar is interested in studying this more.
Study of aquatic plants that have the capacity to adapt to salty water and aquatic lilies who have the capacity to assist with water cleaning, are areas of interest. The tiger mosquito, an invasive mosquito is a focus as well.
Loose your leaves and sleep, is a phrase used for Malta as the six months of wet weather are followed by the six months of drought. Soil engineering comes into play.
Never park your car under a Tamarix Africana tree, said Buhaglar. Salt is excreted from the plant and may fall on the objects below. The tree has a great tolerance for adaptation to salt water.
In the collection is Olea Europaea, one of the oldest olive trees that winds around and shows the marks of age. The Mustick tree stands noble in the botanical garden as well and Buhaglar reminds us that this tree was the earliest source of chewing gum but has as of late been researched for the use of heartburn. The oil of rue Medicago arbria is also used medicinally.
Cheirolophus crassifolius and Maltese crassifolius, the national plant, are studied for their uniquely Maltese adaptations. Aromatic plants such as lavenders, lemon balms and mints are part of the tactile collection. (Mentha suaveolena, Lavandula multified, Melissa officinalis were just a few.)
There are so many interesting things about plants, like human beings, said Professor Buhaglar, as time simply ran out in our exploration of the botanical gardens of the University of Malta which has a population of 9,000 students and 3,000 part-time students.
Kind professor Imparting Knowledge,
Connecting Keenly, smiling intuitively,
Reminds of Noble, honorable teachers,
Thank you, gentleman of inquiry and nature.