A tree between two continents

March 2, 2016 11:20 am

Calling all photographers: Sandarac gum tree photo contest is now open!

Although Malta is certainly not famous for dense forests and tremendous trees, our national tree, the Sandarac gum tree or Siġra tal-Għargħar in Maltese, is rather special and rare. Malta is one of only two places in Europe, where this protected tree can be found. It is indeed a tree between two continents, as its range reaches mainly across North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but on the continental Europe it grows only in the southeast coast of Spain.

To raise awareness about this Mediterranean tree and its protection, a habitat conservation project from Spain has launched an international photography contest. Everyone is invited to take photographs of this unique species and its habitat, conservation, threats, ecology, protected areas, traditional uses or landscapes.

Where to look for this tree in Malta? In fact, the islands’ national tree was once growing here in abundance, but now is scarcely seen in the wild. Place names such as Ħal Għargħur and San Ġwann tal-Għargħar suggest that Sandarac gum tree forests were growing there a long time ago. But today Għargħar is widely planted together with other native plants for afforestation projects establishing native woodlands. Good examples are Wied Ghollieqa valley near the University of Malta and Foresta 2000, where BirdLife Malta has planted around 450 Sandarac gum trees. The species can also be found in Argotti Gardens in Floriana, Buskett woodland, few sites in Mellieħa and BirdLife Malta nature reserves Simar and Għadira.

Sandarac gum trees are part of the cypress family of trees. The evergreen tree grows between 6-15 metres in height and both male and female cones appear on the same tree. This conifer has the fantastic ability to regrow from a stump after it has been cut down. Not every tree can do that! Still, it is a slow-growing tree that faces many threats, including construction, invasive species, and fires.

The Sandarac gum tree forests are protected under the EU’s Habitats Directive, where they’re listed as a ‘priority habitat’. This means EU member states must ensure its protection in the wild by designating special areas of conservation, where human disturbance and land clearance is combatted.

The LIFE + Tetraclinis Europa project (its name comes from species’ Latin name Tetraclinis articulata) works for the recovery of Tetraclinis forest after a fire in 2011 burnt down more than half of the trees in the mountains of Cartagena in Murcia region. They plan to plant over 25,000 trees, preserve and increase the forest area. A big part of the project is also to raise understanding about the protection of these trees. Let’s help them by taking great photos telling about our national tree!

The contest runs till May 18th. Some great photography and nature related prizes are waiting! Send up to 3 photographs to [email protected] with your name and address.

Good luck!

By Jessica Irwin, BirdLife Malta Communications Assistant