The wild leek in the Maltese Islands – 09/06/2020
The first expression of agriculture in prehistory dates back to the Neolithic Revolution, to between 10,000BC and 2000BC when wild plants started being domesticated from their crop wild relatives, through seed collection, planting and cultivation. Till today, Wild relatives of crop plants provide a very important resource to maintain agricultural production and improve agro-ecosystems. An example of springtime crop wild relative relate to the Allium or garlic genus.
Whilst the garlic is one of the cultivated Allium species in local agriculture, there are about 18 different species found in the wild in the Maltese Islands. Amongst the most common is the Hairy Garlic (Tewm Muswaf, Allium subhirsutum), a wild derivative of the cultivated garlic (Tewm, Allium sativum), whilst the Maltese Dwarf Garlic (Tewm Irqiq ta’ Malta, Allium lojaconoi) is a scarce endemic plant.
All Leeks are now recognised as cultivars of their crop wild relative – the Broadleaf Wild Leek (Tewm Selvaġġ, Allium ampeloprasum). Whilst it has not yet been established whether this plant is native or introduced in the Maltese Islands, it can be encountered as a casual in the wild or a field escapee. This species can grow up to 1.8m tall, bearing an umbel with as many as 500 pink and violet flowers in June. In the Islands, the preferred variety for cultivation of leek is the Allium ampeloprasum var. kurrat, which can withstand adverse drought, wind and disease.
In the Maltese island, the most common wild leek species are the Many-flowered Garlic (Kurrat Selvaġġ, Allium polyanthum), an indigenous species which can be seen in steppe or degraded garrigue habitats, often in May.
Two other very rare species, which can occur in open maritime habitats such as rocky coasts are the Maritime Wild Leek (Kurrat tax-Xatt, Allium commutatum), which flowers from June to July and the Hybrid Sea Leek (Kurrat tax-Xatt bagħal, Allium commutatum x polyanthum), which blooms in June.