Looking for GharGhar

Looking for Gharghar

The Gharghar or Araar Tree is the national tree of Malta which is also a rare tree in the wild in Malta. The tree is endemic to the  Maltese Islands and a small forest pocket near Cartagena in Spain. On 16th January 1992 the Araar tree is proclaimed Malta’s national tree and is given a protected status. This happened in the first place as an symbolic act to protect the ecology in the Islands of Malta and in a broader framework as an support to the VN treaty on protection of the biodiversity worldwide, which was arranged in the same year in Rio de Janeiro.
Since then it has seen a relative reversal from the severely endangered status of a few decades ago when only a dozen wild specimens remained. Its wild occurrence is restricted to about 100 trees in the northern part of the island of Malta and re-fforestation programs are being executed. Tetraclinis articulata, or Sanderac Gumtree was once much more common in Malta. Various local names Gharghar, and Gharghur point out to the existence of a wider distribution, and maybe small forests. Apparently they disappeared centuries to decades ago, mostly due to habitat alteration and land reclamation. The populations of Tetraclinus both in Malta and Spain are currently listed as Regionally Endangered.




2011 – ongoing


Research project


Spain, Morocco, Malta, Rhodes

The main threats today for Tetraclinus articulata include habitat modification, destruction and human-induced disturbances. Afforestation and reforestation programmes in its distribution range with indigenous and alien trees, which do not form part of Sigra Tal Ghar-Ghar’s biotope are threats too.

In each locality they were formerly more widespread but have declined to their current sizes as a result of historical over-exploitation, fires, urbanisation  and the expansion of agricultural activities.
Sigra Tal Gharghar grows at relative low altitudes in a hot, dry subtropical Mediterranean climate. We found approximately 80 – 100 specimens in malta and Gozo together.  Near Meliha and near ST Martin’s Church. Some in the botanica garden in Valletta, three specimens were not that long ago planted in the botanical garden of Nadur, and an older tree in the city park of Victoria. The Sanderac-gum tree is an attractive tree, similar in form and foliage to many of the Cypresses. The fruit however are very distinctive. They are four sided cones – thus tetraclinis. The four facets of the cones have delicate pale but bright blue bracts.Tetraclinus is one of only a small number of conifers able to re-grow by sprouting from stumps, an adaptation to survive wildfire some browsing by animals. Old trees that have sprouted repeatedly over a long period form large burls at the base, known as lupias. These are often called root burls (or burrs in the UK).The wood of the burrs of Tetraclinus articulata is used in luxury goods, fountain pens, boxes, and The resin, known as sandarac, is used to make varnish and lacquer; it is particularly valued for preserving paintings. The wood is naturally resinous and oily, and has a strong but pleasant cedar-like aroma.

In parks and school playgrounds Sigar Tal Gharghar are planted from seed grown in nurseries on Gozo.  In 2006 a special program on Gozo was launched to inform and educate schoolchildren with nature and nature protection, in which the tetraclinus articulta, Malta’s national tree played an important part.
In about 60 countries worldwide, including Malta, this proclamation was done on World Arbor Day. In the Netherlands However, we have so many trees, but have never proclaimed any tree our National tree. We, are looking for the heritage and the stories behind this tree including the Maltese motif to proclaim such a rare species their “National Tree”. Trees and hence our nature and the natural environment are under large pressure of human activity. So on the islands of the Maltese archipelago, in the landscape everywhere is human intervention apparent.

It seems every m2 is once processed, or used for agricultural and horticultural activity or is chosen as building site. Nature is clearly on the defensive and reduced to narrow borders and not for any other use suitable corners.
Similarly in the Netherlands there is an endless discourse on nature conservation and regional planning. Our research question is: “What function, role and/or task can a tree play to enforce awareness and to support nature conservation and how can we update the story of this special tree species?”
Looking at these matters we started out with a whole lot of questions, which should clarify the proper (regional) names which are given to the Araar tree (Tetraclinus Articulata) to filter out mix-ups in the historical reports.