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Sweet Alyssum

Lobularia maritima  (L.) Desvaux   (Fam: BRASSICACEAE.)

Published date of profile: Mar-2003.
Citation: Mifsud S., (Mar-2003) Lobularia maritima on MaltaWildPlants.com

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Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
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Nomenclature

Species name :

Lobularia maritima  (L.) Desvaux

Name Derivation :

Carl von Linné, Sweden, 1707-1778

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: No Main Synonyms
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Brassicaceae  Juss.
(Mustard (Cress) Family)

Common name(s) :

Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Alison

Maltese name(s) :

Buttuniera

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Originating from the Maltese islands

Name Derivation:

Lobularia = Means a small pod, referring to the seedpod. (Latin)
maritima = Maritime; related to the coast or the sea. Maritime, sea-borne, related to the sea with reference to the coastal habitat of the plant. (Latin)(Latin origin)

Remarks :

-


Morphology and structure

PLANT STRUCTURE:

Character

Growth Form

Branching

Surface

Description

Ascending :

Climbing up; lower part of stem is lying on the ground but the upper part of stem rises upwards.

Moderately Branched :

Considerable number of secondary branches along the main stem.

Puberulous :

Covered with minute hairs or very fine down; finely pubescent.

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)

LEAVES:

Character

Arrangement

Attachment

Venation

Description

Alternate :

Growing at different positions along the stem axis.

Sessile :

Growing directly from the stem; without a stalk.

Single :

One central main vein (midrib) along leaf axis.

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)
 

Character

Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin

Remarks

Description

Fusiform :

Spindle shape, widest in the middle and tapering towards both ends.

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.

Leaf Colour

Leaf colour tends to have a white/silverish tinge.

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)

FLOWERS:

Character

Colour

Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals

Description

White

Cruciform :

A flower with four petals at right angles to each other forming a shape of a cross.

4

4

General
Picture

  Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)
 

Character

Inflorescence

Description

Ovary

Stamens

Description

Raceme :

Simple, elongated, indeterminate cluster with stalked flowers.

The flower consists of 4 circular, slightly overlapping white petals arranged diagonally to each other. There are also 6 barely visible tiny stamens with yellow anthers and a central pistil.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

6, Tetradynamous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)
 

Character

Scent

Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes

Description

YES

A sweet honey-like scent which is fairly strong.

5mm

Yellow

-


SEEDS:

Character

No. Per Fruit

Shape

Size

Colour

Description

2

Orbicular

Round and flattened, like a button.

1-2mm

Brown

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)

FRUIT AND OTHER BOTANICAL DATA:

Character

Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes

Description

Silicule :

A dry pod-like fruit which is not more than twice as long as broad (often more broad than long) so having a roundish disc like shape.

Opaque

Semi-translucent fruit wall, with seed visible inside. (when fully ripe).

Taproot :

A rooting system where there is the main descending root of a plant having a single dominant large structure from which a network of smaller and long roots emerge.

-

General
Picture

Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010) Wild Plants of the Mediterranean Islands of Malta  - Copyright Stephen Mifsud / Maltawildplants.com / Malta (2002-2010)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:

Perennial.

Growth Form:

CHAMEOPHYTE (Small or dwarf shrubs)

Habitat:

Rocky places, Garigues, Steppes, and valley tops. Commonly found along waysides.

Frequency:

Very Common

Localities in Malta:

Very Common throughout the garigues and upper valley sides of the Maltese Islands. Cannot be missed during November and December.

Plant Height:

10-40cm.

Flowering Period:

All Year

Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Flora section of the National Red Data Book (Lanfranco, 1989)

Poison:

Not Poisonous.

This plant is usually described as annual but in Malta (as in certain places in Zone 9 and 10), climate conditions are favourable, and the plant can live all year long. Thus in Malta its life cycle is described as perennial. The plant has an ascending or prostate stem which is glabrous and has many short sub-branching stems. They form long raceme inflorescences with planty of scented flowers that are produced in most months of the year.

The leaves are quite small (about 30mm long) and simple, arranged alternately along the lower part of the stem. They have a fusiform shape, smooth outline, and have shiny greyish green colour due to the presence of many flattened fine white bristles.

The lying stems arise erect few centimetres below the location where the inflorescence starts. The plant produces racemes of very small flowers which can be few centimetres short or grow fairly long. The tiny flowers of about 5mm in diameter, are almost always white in colour in Malta, but there are plants described with lavender or pale purple flowers. As in racemes, the small flowers are densely clustered at the tip of the stem, and further down they get more spaced as they develop to the fruit,

The flowers have 4, small, circular white petals; 4 sepals; 6 tetradynamous stamens (4 long and central, 2 short and lateral) which are yellow and a central very small pistil deep inside the flower which can hardly be seen by the naked eye. The flowers give off a pleasant scent similar to honey and particularly noted when flowers are in plentiful clusters.

After fertilisation, the petals and other parts fall off, leaving a small, circular seed pod of 3.5mm across which is attached to the stem by a long stalk. This structure is called a silicule. At its apical edge the silicule has a characteristic small rod-shaped projection, which previously was the style+stigma of the flower. There can be only two seeds present per silicule. When the fruit is ripe, the 2 walls forming the outer halves of the silicule fall off and expose the seed outside. These fall down without any means of dispersion leaving a translucent partition (called the replum).

The peach-brown seeds are very small (just about 1mm in diameter), circular in shape and flattened.


Information, uses and other details


Cultivation Notes:

Succeeds in an ordinary garden soil in a sunny position [200]. Succeeds in sandy soils [188]. Grows well on dry walls [1]. Tolerates maritime conditions [200]. Although a short-lived perennial, it soon loses its compact habit if grown for more than one year and so is usually grown as an annual plant in gardens [245]. A very ornamental plant, there are several named forms developed for their ornamental value. This species usually self-sows in the garden if growing in a good position [1]. A fast-growing plant [188], it makes a good edging to a plant bed. The forms of this species with white flowers have the refreshing scent of new-mown hay - flowers of other colours having little or no scent. [245] A good bee and butterfly plant [17, 30].

Medicinal Uses:

The plant is commonly used in Spain as an antiscorbutic ( can be used to treat scurvy = lack of vitamin C [271] ) and diuretic ( promotes the flow of urine [271]) . It is also highly esteemed as an astringent ( causes shrinkage and drying of surface membranes [271]) in the treatment of gonorrhoea. [240]

Edible Uses:

The young leaves, stems and flowers are sometimes used as a flavouring in salads and other dishes where pungency is required. [183]

Other Uses:

In his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" Michael Pollan talks about an organic farm that plant sweet alyssum between every few rows of lettuce since it attracts the lacewings & syrphid flies that eat the aphids that molest the lettuces. [Personal communication by Kirk M. Wuest]

Personal observations:

Miscellaneaous
  • It has been reported that there are violet and apricot coloured flower variants of this plant. In Malta these are very rare or more probably do not grow at all. Only the white form predominates in Malta. [SM]

  • The scent of this flower is very sweet and is very similar to honey. [SM]
  • The flowers of this plant is mostly observed in November when most of the wild plants are not yet in blossom. During late winter and spring these low plants may be masked by other dense and higher plants. They are often easily seen in Winter and Spring in rocky waysides where there is not much high or dense plants (for example the invasive Oxalis pes-caprae) growing around [SM]

Photo Gallery   (34 Images)

IMAGE: LBLMT-01
Photo of flower head, composed of many small (c. 4-5mm) white flowers.
IMAGE: LBLMT-02
Each flower has 4 white petals arranged diagonally (or right angles) to each other - a characteristic of the Brassica (mustard) family.
IMAGE: LBLMT-03
Each flowers has 6 stamens with yellow anthers and a central pistil ending with a swollen stigma.
IMAGE: LBLMT-04
Close up photo of flowers. Stamens of mature flowers usually have purple-brown filaments (and style) while in very young flowers these are green.
IMAGE: LBLMT-05
Close up photo of flowers, the youngest being that with a green centre.
IMAGE: LBLMT-06
Close up photo of flowers. Many genera of the Brassicaceae family have species with 4 long stamens and 2 short ones, but Lobularia is an exception, because the stamens are similar.
IMAGE: LBLMT-07
Annotated image of a flower cluster.
IMAGE: LBLMT-08
Flower cluster against a dark background.
IMAGE: LBLMT-09
In rare cases, the plant with purple (or lilac) colour are seen in the wild. There is a cultivated variety of Lobularia maritima which has deep purple colours (see photo below).
IMAGE: LBLMT-10
Lateral view of raceme with flowers at the top, and fruit gradually maturing down the stem. Fruiting pedicels become more distant from each other, unlike the clustered flowers.
IMAGE: LBLMT-11
Scanned image of a single flower against a dark background. Although it seems that there are 7 yellow anthers, one of them is the style covered with yellow pollen.
IMAGE: LBLMT-12
Scanned and annotated image of bud, young flowers and mature flowers.
IMAGE: LBLMT-13
Scanned and annotated image of the flowering stem.
IMAGE: LBLMT-14
Photo of a young plant showing several leaves which are between fusiform and oblanceolate in shape.
IMAGE: LBLMT-15
Photo of a typical linear-lanceolate leaf of Lobularia maritima . They vary from narrow fusiform to sub-spathulate/lanceolate. Plant is often grayish due to short white hair.
IMAGE: LBLMT-16
Scanned image of the fusiform (spindle-shaped) leaves.
IMAGE: LBLMT-17
Photo of silicules one next to each other along stem. The translucent partition between the fruiting compartments remains for some time before it gets weathered away.
IMAGE: LBLMT-18
Photo of mature fruit. It consists of a small, flattened pouch which holds one or two seeds. This fruiting structure is called a silicule and differs from a silique by having its length less than two times its width, (hence a rounded structure instead of an elongated one).
IMAGE: LBLMT-19
Photo of an empty silicule. The central semi-translucent partition (sometimes called a replum) divides the 2 seeds that are attached with at either side. The replum remains for some days until it ruptures and leaves a hollowed circular structure.
IMAGE: LBLMT-20
Photo of fruit (3mm in diameter) with one of the 2 seeds still attached to the translucent replum.
IMAGE: LBLMT-21
Scanned and annotated image of the silicule (=fruit). On maturation the outer green valves of the fruit falls away and exposes the seeds weakly attached to a translucent wall (=replum).
IMAGE: LBLMT-22
Scanned image demonstrating the development of the fruit from the embryo stage to the formation of the ripe seeds.
IMAGE: LBLMT-23
Scanned image of the orange-brown seeds.
IMAGE: LBLMT-24
Magnified scanned image of seeds showing that they are enclosed in a semi-translucent chamber and are situated eccentrically inside.
IMAGE: LBLMT-25
Magnified image of pollen under the light microscope.
IMAGE: LBLMT-26
Magnified image of pollen under the light microscope. They are pitted and have an oval shape.
IMAGE: LBLMT-27
Magnified image of white hair covering most parts of the plants, especially stems, pedicels and leaves. This pubescence gives the plant a certain grayish appearance.
IMAGE: LBLMT-28
Magnified image of hair shows that is is not simple, but composed of 2 subulate parts (branches) split oppositely apart.
IMAGE: LBLMT-29
Photo of a beautiful specimen in mid November - peak of the flowering period for this perennial species which can be found in flowers throughout Autumn, Winter and Spring.
IMAGE: LBLMT-30
Photo of plenty of flowers in situ. This low-growing plant looks attractive when it covers a patch of ground with numerous white flowers as seen in this photo. It blooming peak is November-February, but flowers can be seen almost all year round.
IMAGE: LBLMT-31
Photo of a young plant showing its first inflorescence and several small leaves.
IMAGE: LBLMT-32
Photo of plant taken at one of its preferred habitat, that is waysides with rocks or stones.
   
IMAGE: LBLMT-33
Photo of plants taken at Dingli. This plant is commonly found lining pathways, stone walls and passages in the countryside. The plant is prominent between October to December when there is not much flowers or high foliage.
IMAGE: LBLMT-34
Photo of a violet flower variant. (author and copyright of G.D. Carr). This and any other coloured flower forms are not found in Malta.
IMAGE: LBLMT-35
-
IMAGE: LBLMT-36

Links & Further info

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EoL

IPNI

The Plant List

NYBG

Vienna Virt. Hb.

RBGE

KEW

MNHN

Arkive


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