Stephen Mifsud, botanist and former MSc student at the Garden, has discovered a new fern on the island of Malta. The fern is a new subspecies of Polypodium vulgare called melitense in recognition of its discovery on Malta.
The widespread form of this fern, generally called common polypody, is found throughout Europe extending into the Mediterranean region. The new Maltese subspecies is so far only known from Malta.
These ferns produce a creeping rhizome that allows them to grow perched on rocks or the branches of trees. It is already known that the common polypody produces a chemical compound in the rhizome that is among the sweetest of all known compounds. The compound involved is called ostadin and is 3,000 times sweeter than the sugar sucrose. Whether the new subspecies produces the same compound remains unknown.
Finding a new plant is the first step on a journey of discovery and there are plans to examine the plants DNA to build a better understanding of how this new fern is related to the other species of polypody on Malta and throughout Europe.
According to Stephen “the discovery of new species is also an important tool to promote Malta because a number of nature lovers abroad would be more interested to visit the island to see the new and endemic plant species.”
The recent article in Times of Malta provides more information.