The major communities which characterise the terrestrial vegetation assemblages of the Maltese Islands are part of the successional sequence leading to the climax assemblage i.e. from steppe, garrigue, maquis and climaxing at the woodland. Whilst garrigue is the most dominant vegetation type, steppes are also widespread and they result from degradation of the maquis and garrigue.
One particular plant which thrives in the steppe habitat is the Mediterranean/Boar Thistle (Galactites tomentosa, Xewk Abjad) , the most common of over 29 thistle species in the Maltese Islands. Being distributed in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the Mediterranean thistle bears hairy, silver-green foliage with a white vein-pattern on the leaves. The flower heads, which appear from March to June are quite large, about 3cm diameter with colours varying from white to pinkish.
Even during Ancient Roman times, the edibility of this plant was recognised with Dioscorides (40-90AD) describing it as an edible thistle eaten young and cooked in oil with salt. In the Dardanelle region (Eastern Mediterranean), in fact, the young flowering stems are eaten as a herb or vegetables cooked with other vegetables.
Other plants which are typically found in degraded steppes include Common Awn Grass (Stipa capensis, Nixxief ta’ l-isteppa), Goat Grass (Aegilops geniculate, Brimba), Branched Asphodel (Aesphodelus aestivus, Berwieq), Seaside Squill (Uriginea pancration, Basal ta’ l-Għansar) and numerous thistles such as the Clustered Carline thistle(Carlina involucrate, Sajtun). Whilst plants such as the Mediterranean thistle are often considered as weeds, they provide an important source of food for honey bees and other wild pollinators. As regards bees, the multiflora spring honey depends heavily on the nectar collected from the Red Clover/Sulla (Hedysarum coronaroum, Silla), Mediterranean Thistle, Citrus species (Citrus spp) and the borage (Borago officinalis, Fidloqqom).