May 22, 2018

IMG_4597We encountered him on the Dingli Cliffs of Floriana, Malta. With an inviting smile, quick wit and Maltese charm, Dr. Joseph Buhaglar became an honorary member of our traveling American agriculture group immediately. The kind professor oriented us to the Dingli Cliffs of Floriana, Malta, near Valletar.

A friendly, charismatic and warm, natural-born teacher, Dr. Buhaglar cried out welcome to our landscape…almost everything is dry! In fact in the Mediterranean we have six months of heaven and six months of hell. In July a plant might be exposed to fourteen hours of sun–hotter than Kentucky Fried Chicken!

The professor proclaimed plants are resilient and can make adaptations. Here in Malta with one of the oldest civilizations, plants date to 5000 B.C., older than the pyramids. The artifacts that have been found indicate in-depth human knowledge with stone configurations of monumental size that are organized to reveal solar clocks that indicate solstices and times to plant crops. They were giants of knowledge for sure…we know that between 5000 and 3000 B.C. they understood astronomy, stone cutting and sophisticated tools. A petrified tiger tooth was found that shows how it was used as a saw for example.

 Buhaglar asked each of the MGs and Extension Agents to spend ten minutes walking around the cliff to observe carefully everything they could. He joked, don’t go too close to the edge.

Actively engaged with us in our investigations, we saw some of the following:

  • Orange colored stone that indicated algae and fungi, and
  • Evidence of lichens that indicated the symbiotic association of two organisms where both mutually benefited (algae provided food and fungi provided structure and protection)

Look–they are still making a living! and then explained that lichens are still surviving. He reminded us that the substrate is calciferous rock (limestone) and very alkaline.

Malta boasts high diversity…what we call a bio-diversity hot spot–with 1,200 plant species which is half of what Germany can support.

Toward the edge of the cliff, there was stratification–varying layers of different rocks. Malta was formed 26 million years ago which is relatively young for land formation comparatively speaking…all sedimentary rock.

Five Layers of rock:

1) hard layer coralline limestone

2) globigerina yellow limestone

3) clay

4) sandstone

5) upper coral line limestone

What makes it hard stone?

Pitted karstic limestone shows the exploitation of crevices on the surface of the rock. There is an intricate relationship between animal life and fungi plant, and the plant supplies fungi with nutrients.

The hard stone quarry was seen in the distance and had a visual impact on the environment. Notice that the plants were coping with wind bursts by being in clumps. Narrow leaves revealed the adaptation to less water. Pat of our group likened the scene to  the Bern plants in Ireland from the Ice Age, and the professor said, great observation.

Malta and the Mediterranean experience earthquakes from the African and Eurasian plates crashing together–an area of high seismic activity.

Because different rocks have different properties, rocks erode in varying ways (fractures in blocks, clay erodes like humps and moves forward. In the cliff, it was evident to see clay and other sedimentary activity.

Prickly pears were evident as a wind breaker. Crops for fodder withstand wind although wheat and barley can be affected by the wind greatly.

Some plants that survive on the surface of the cliff which are examples of the precious habitat include plants such as (which the professor identified for us):

  • Asphodelus allturius and Asphodelus fistulossis (both cliff hanging wild plants),
  • Chiliadenus becconir, a camphor smelling plant that has a chemical effect upon animals,
  • Atractylis gummifera, a ground thistle with extremely thick and long roots that are very poisonous and produces a beautiful flower in August, and
  • Aherameria microphylla, a tiny crevice perennial used medicinally.

Malta has few native animals; only such as rodents and shrews although it is a phenomenal for creatures to evolve atypically on isolated islands like Malta over time. (For example, smaller animals have become larger and larger animals smaller throughout time in such environments as evidenced by skeletal remains of ancient pygmy elephant fossils and the prehistoric giant swan fossil over geological time, shared the professor.)

When asked why there were hunting lodges on Malta, the professor explained that the Knights of St. John were often from noble families of Europe and wanted to replicate their cultural experiences and thus brought soil, planted trees and released deer and rabbits. Rabbits still remain and as an invasive species have nearly wiped out some vegetation, said the professor.

Shear and concave erosion was shown on cliffs. Terraced fields revealed globigerina limestone. Pale soil showed clay and globigerina limestone. Red soils depict mucky, said the professor. Today, manure as a soil amendment comes from a nearby dairy farm as well as poultry, small rabbit and goat farms.

The professor pointed  to uninhabited Filfla in the horizon, the small island, just visible and used as a bird sanctuary. A particular kind of puffin is native to the island. Filfla is abundant with non-detonated bombs left from World War II. The island boasts a wild leek that grows to two meters.

After the tour and hands-on experience, we lunched in Mdina. On our way through Mdina, we learned:

Malta means safe harbor!

  • in the 1980s, Mdina through UNESCO worked to restore the palaces and treasures.
  • Several movies have been filmed in Malta including: Gladiator, Captain Phillips, and Eye of the Tiger.
  • Many ghost stories abound about the castles…in fact a ghost festival is held on the last weekend of October.
  • A cloistered nun group from the Benedictine order has been in Malta since 1417.
  • Mdina is known for ornate, iron door knockers.
  • Curving streets were systematically designed for protection with 60 to 70 steps and then a corner for strategic protection so that one can conceal oneself from the attacker.
  • 1693 earthquake damages are shown in very aged structures.
  • Palace of Mdina was a mixture of Romanesque and Arabic architecture.
  • Malta has 40 different towns with local councils although most towns touch each other.
  • The national stadium holds 25,000.
  • Valetta doors must be green.
  • Ancient temples show first culture was Paleolithic in 5000 B.C. (pottery similar to south of Sicily. From the Mesolithic culture, see alters and statues; 7,000 tombs were recently found in Malta and Goya.
  • Land is very expensive with 1 square meter selling for 1,000 Euros in 2018
  • Of language, Mdina means fortified town.
  • 700 B.C.-Language introduced by Phoenicians and modified later by Arabic.IMG_1524

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