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Eradication from Gozo of the invasive African Fountain Grass

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Eradication from Gozo of African Fountain Grass alien plant speciesMany are aware about invasive alien species (IAS), which are plants or animals that are introduced in our islands deliberately or accidentally by man and which become invasive and posing a threat to native species.

The EcoGozo Regional Development Directorate explained that these invaders put at risk the growth of native plants and trees by dominating their natural habitats, occupying their space and eventually over compete them for nutrients uptake.

With regards to animals, The Directorate pointed out that IAS threat native species by feeding on them or take their food. They can grow in large numbers without control since there are no natural predators on our islands.

Most, if not all, of the invasive species originate away from the Mediterranean region, namely from Australia (e.g. the Blue-leaved Acacia tree); from Africa (e.g. the Castor oil tree); from South America (e.g. Prickly pear tree) and to a less extent from Asia (e.g. the Asian tiger mosquito).

The Directorate said that the best example of an IAS for Malta would undoubtedly be the Cape sorrel plant known in Maltese as il-Qarsu or il-Haxixa Ingliza which dominated the Maltese Islands after only 80-100 years from the few dozens of plants introduced as an ornamental plant in the beginning of the 19th Century.

Its invasiveness was successful because its spread was never controlled in the remote past, most likely because nobody was really aware of the danger it was creating to our natural ecosystems.Eradication from Gozo of African Fountain Grass alien plant speciesOne plant which is spreading at an alarming rate in the Maltese Islands and most of south Europe is the African fountain grass (Il-Pjuma or Penizetum).

The Directorate said that in fact, it is one of the species that is abolished at EU level and member states are obliged to control and eventually eradicate it.

The Ministry for Gozo is actively fighting against the spread of this plant in Gozo. Under the supervision of Stephen Mifsud, the EcoGozo Directorate within the Ministry for Gozo is managing the eradication of this invasive plant from Gozo.

Recently, the Environment and Resources Authority developed and launched a national strategy to prevent and mitigate the impact of invasive alien species. It is now illegal to sell or cultivate the fountain grass among a few other top invasive species.

The fountain grass appeared in Malta some 20 years ago and like the cape sorrel, it was introduced as a horticultural plant. The Directorate said that it was often seen as an embellishment plant in traffic islands and road sides, and later, it was sold commercially as a domestic ornament.

It went on to say that the plant became popular because of its elegant slender feathery spikes and its low, or even no-maintenance, where plants can be left unwatered for the whole summer and it remains flourishing elegantly.

One mature plant can however produce 10,000 seeds which can disperse by wind over a long distance.

Last April, EcoGozo said that it dedicated a fillable form under the ecoGozo section on the myGozo e-Government mobile app where the public can report the presence of the fountain grass in a one-minute job through their smartphone.Eradication from Gozo of African Fountain Grass alien plant speciesIt said that this helps to locate the plants and manage their removal. A large population reported at Ghajnsielem (close to Saint Joseph Institute) was completely removed by EcoGozo last September, just a few weeks after it was reported.

Recently, a larger population was reported at the public gardens near Ggantija, where after some surveys it was found to have spread to a few roads close by, Ta’ Verna area, some adjacent fields and at the Ggantija premises itself.

The Directorate said that thanks to a co-ordinated effort between the Environment Resources Authority, Heritage Malta (managing the Ggantija temples premises), the Xaghra Local council, the Rural Gozo Directorate (led by Neville Mercieca) and the EcoGozo Directorate (under the direction of Vicky Xuereb), the entire population was removed from this site. A few weeks ago, singular plants were also removed from other roads in Xaghra, Munxar, Qala and Victoria.

The Directorate is encouraging the public to remove this plant from their private gardens and instead replace it by native shrubs or flowering plants that, it said, can be bought from the Dawwara Nursery managed by the Ministry for Gozo.

In Gozo, the management of the fountain grass is under good control, and with the aid of the public, Gozo could be the first habitable island in the Mediterranean region free from this terrible invasive species, the Directorate said.

The public is encouraged to download the application myGozo from the Apple App store iOS) or Google Play (Android).

After installation, one needs to click the section ECOGOZO within the app to find the tool to report the presence of the fountain grass, among other free services provided by ecoGozo to the public.

Photos: The African fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), a plant which forms a tuft of slender leaves and many feathery pale spikes with a slight purple hue; Public garden near Ggantija Temples invaded by the fountain grass, and the same public garden after being cleared from the invasive species by dedicated workers from Rural Gozo and ecoGozo.

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