Species: Maltese rock-centaury (Cheirolophus crassifolius)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The Maltese rock-centaury is the national plant of Malta.
A perennial plant with smooth, fleshy leaves and attractive purple flowers, the Maltese rock-centaury is found on Malta and the nearby islands of Gozo and Fungus Rock. It grows only in full sun on coastal limestone cliffs and on loose rock debris on slopes. This long-lived plant flowers between May and July, producing a single flower head on each flowering stalk. The flower heads of the Maltese rock-centaury are made up of many small, individual, tubular flowers and are surrounded by a whorl of specialised leaves, or ‘bracts’, with the whole structure resembling a single flower. The seeds of the Maltese rock-centaury are dispersed by the wind.
The Maltese rock-centaury has a very restricted range, being found in a total area of less than 100 square kilometres. Its population is fragmented and is estimated at just a few thousand individuals. The main threats to this plant include nearby quarrying activities, which can cause the fragile cliffs it grows on to collapse, and human disturbance in more accessible areas. Invasive plants also pose a risk, while an unidentified moth larva has been seen attacking this species’ developing fruits. The Maltese rock-centaury is listed on the EC Habitats Directive as a priority species, giving it legal protection, and some of the cliffs it grows on are also protected. This plant has also been cultivated, providing potential stock for future reintroductions. The Maltese rock-centaury’s habitat requires careful management and protection, and better control of quarrying and of invasive plants is also needed.
Find out more about the Maltese rock-centaury and other threatened Mediterranean plants at IUCN – The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants: Wild plants on the brink of extinction, and what is needed to save them.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author