From mid-December to mid-April our fields and country lanes come alive with a wild flower the colour of sunshine. During these months, Cape Sorrel grows free and unrestrained. But things were not always like this. This plant was introduced to the Mediterranean from South Africa by an English lady around 200 years ago. The story goes that a few plants were grown in the greenhouses at Argotti Botanical Gardens. Somehow some seeds managed to escape and found the perfect climate and terrain to proliferate. From Malta, this pretty wild flower spread throughout the region. I found a good article by Leslie Vella on Malta Inside Out which goes into more detail about this – you can read it here.
Although this plant was not always indigenous to the Maltese islands, it has adapted so well and become so common-place that few people so much as give it a second glance. Indeed, it can be a bit of a nuisance when it takes over cultivated fields and gardens and has to be pulled out or it will suffocate any seedlings attempting to grow.
With that peculiar Maltese penchant of re-naming everything under the sun, this wild-flower is called ‘l-ingliza’ – which means the English one, or in this case, the English weed. Children also call it ‘qarsu’ (which means sour) because it is not uncommon to find kids chewing the flower stalks and they are indeed very sour. I am speaking from experience here.
Like so many things in nature, these pretty flowers come and go effortlessly. No fanfare greets their arrival. It is as if we wake up one morning and the set has been changed. Suddenly our eyes open up to the simple beauty surrounding us as, for a few month, our fields seem to reflect the sunbeams.