by Stephen Mifsud
   19 Nov 2019      ()
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Antirrhinum siculum   (Sicilian Snapdragon)

Antirrhinum siculum   (PLANTAGINACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Images External Links
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Website FORUM Copyright notes
Plantaginaceae spp. Index Plant Family Index
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Profile Date Apr-2004 (last update: 12-Jan-2019)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (Apr-2004) Antirrhinum siculum retrieved from on 2019-Nov-19


Species name :

Antirrhinum siculum  Miller

Name Derivation :

Philip Miller, England, 1691-1771

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: Antirrhinum majus subsp. Siculum
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Plantaginaceae  Juss.
(Plantain Family)

English name(s) :

Sicilian Snapdragon, Wall Snapdragon

Maltese name(s) :

Papoċċi bojod, Ras il-mewt, Ras il-baqra

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Antirrhinum = "anti" = front ; "rhinon" = snout, referring to the flower form which has a frontal snout shape (Greek);
siculum = from or related to Sicily (a region and large island in South Italy). Sicilian, derived from or related to Sicily (Latin). (Latin origin)

Remarks :


Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Erect :

Upright, vertically straight up well clear off the ground.

Basal Branching :

Branches are mostly present at the basal part of the stem.

Hirsute :

Covered with rough, coarse hairs.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Whorled :

Three or more similar leaves growing at the same level about an axis (stem).

Sessile :

Growing directly from the stem; without a stalk.

Single :

One central main vein (midrib) along leaf axis.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Fusiform :

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

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.

Leaf Colour

The colour of leaves is darker from the other related species of same Genus - Antirrhinum tortuosum.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Cream and Yellow

Personate :

Flowers composed of 2 lips with the lower one having a rounded projection known as a palate.


Upper and lower modified petals resting on each other and hence described as 2 lips.



  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Raceme :

Simple, elongated, indeterminate cluster with stalked flowers.

The flower consists of 5 small elongated sepals and a corolla of 2 large and complex, cream petals (lips) resting on each other and forming a closed tube. The lower lip is small but it is further decorated by bright yellow patch at the centre. Inside the flower, there are 4 stamens and a pistil, all close together and located at the roof of the upper lip,.

Superior :

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

4, Didynamous :

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


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



Strong sweet scent similar to roses.

15 x 15 x 22 mm

(Length x Breadth x Depth).

Pale Yellow




No. Per Fruit






Irregular cylindrical to oval shape

(Seed coat possess several ridges).


Dark Reddish brown


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Indehiscent Poricidal Capsule :

A non-splitting fruit capsule which usually stores a large number of tiny seeds which escape through small pores or slits in the walls of the fruit.


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.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

CHAMEOPHYTE (dwarf or small shrubs)


Walls especially fortifications and very old houses, street sideways and stony wasteland.



Localities in Malta:

Common in various places throughout Malta especially in Rabat area, Girgenti/Dingli, Cottonera, Valletta and Mellieha. Similarly common in Gozo.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:

All Year

Protection in Malta:

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

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Unlikely to be poisonous.

This short-lived perennial plant consists of erect stems of about 20-50cm in length with simple leaf branches - each having a well developed leaf stipule - and the main stem possess a yellow-cream inflorescence at the top. The stem is green and glabrous through all its length.

The leaves are also glabrous, and in adult plants, there is usually one long leaf - a stipule of 60 - 70mm long, which becomes shorter up the stem and from it grows a small leaf-branch of few smaller leaves about 30-40mm long which also gets gradually smaller up the stem. All leaves have the same basic fusiform shape, an entire outline and usually a flattened V-shaped cross section. The stipule + leaf branch arrangement is persistent throughout all the stem and arranged along at irregular whorls, but most commonly, of 4 parts. Unlike the similar subspecies, Antirrhinum majus subs tortuosum, the leaf branches are not twisted, coiled or bent.

The plant's flowers are arranged as short-stalked (8mm c.) racemes, with a tendency to be unilateral and their tip curved up. The flowers have a curved slender bract more or less similar to the leaves but much smaller. The flowers which have a sweet and strong fragrance, are made of 5 narrow (8mm c.), non-hairy and non-overlapping sepals. a cream and yellow, bilaterally symmetrical corolla, 4 stamens and a simple pistil. Dimensions of typical flower are approximately 15mm x 15mm x 22mm (LxBxH).

The crean corolla is a tube-like structure made up from 2 complex-structured lips, the upper has 2 lobes, and the lower has 3 smaller lobes. The upper lip have parallel purple streaks (veins) while the lower lip has a bright yellow palate (bulging central portion). The lips are fused in such a way that they can open up, namely by pollinating insects such as bees, so that they can enter the flower to reach the nectar inside and so doing, pollinate the flower too.

The tube inside the flower is yellow and white with vertical purple stripes at the roof of the upper lip and yellow hairy brushes at the lower lip. There are also 4 stamens, arranged in 2 pairs, one being shorter than the other by few millimeters. They are composed of bulging pale yellow anthers and white filaments. There is also the style+stigma, about the same length of the longer stamens which leads to the ovary deep inside the flower at the sepals region. The style and stamens are grouped close together at the roof of the upper lip.

When the flower is old, the corolla and stamens fall off, leaving the ovary and style. The latter remains attached until the fruit dries. The ovary develops into the fruit which is an elongated roundish capsule which holds inside hundreds of tiny developing seeds. When seeds mature, the fruit dries up and the free seeds are liberated from 3 openings in the fruit wall by movement of the long stems with wind. The dried fruit ant its 3 openings, resembles an animal skull. The irregularly shaped, cylindrical / oval seeds are just about 1mm long and dark reddish brown in colour. <

Information, uses and other details

This plant (Antirrhinum majus subsp siculum) is very similar to the other subspecies - Antirrhinum majus subsp tortuosum and share same general information, uses and characteristics, unless stated below. (Click here) to check the information about the other plant

Nativity and History

The plant is endemic to Sicily according to reference [WWW-42]. but now it has become native to several places in the Mediterranean basin, including Malta, Israel [WWW-36]. and possibly other neighbour countries where A. tortuosum is located.

Snapdragons are an old decorative flower, which were already known to the Romans. From genetic center around southern Spain the cultivated form was spread throughout the whole Roman empire. Nowadays remnants of these original population which all belong to the species Antirrhinum majus are found among Roman remains like temples, stadia etc in southern France, Malta, Israel and so on. The scientific name of the genus Antirrhinum was first defined by Carl von Linn� (also Carl Linnaeus) in the year 1753. [WWW-59].

Personal Observations

Toxicity of the plant
It was curious to find that many sources described the antirrhinum species as non toxic and safe while few others suggests that all parts of the plant is poisonous. Sources which states the plant to be toxic are these: example 1    example 2   . Other sources which clearly states 'safe' or not poisonous are these: example 1    example 2    example 3    and example 4   including this broucher about plants for children.  It seems that generally there are more sources which classifies the plant as a non-toxic one, and so it is safe to say that it is unlikely to be poisonous. [SM].
Propagation notes
Preferred habitat is through gaps in walls such as rubble walls ("hajt tas-sejjieh"), fortifications and old buildings. Prefers full sun and calciferous soil. Can be easily grown from seeds in pots but this would require frequent watering, more or less every 2 to 3 days. Best swoing time is late Autumn.[RA, SM].
How seeds reach the cracks in walls
The preferred habitat of this plant is undoubtfully cracks between walls, such as in old houses, farm houses and even fortifications. The mysterious question is how unwinged seeds manage to reach in these particular locations (wall cracks). The seeds are not intended to be carried by wind, such as pappus-bearing seeds. Also the fruit is a non operculate, poricidal (pores in the fruit wall), dehiscent capsule which do not offer a special means of dispersion - seeds just fall off from openings in the capsule wall with swaying by wind. One hypothesis is that seeds maybe carried by insects, namely ants. However it is still hard to believe that for example an ant had carried the seed up to high walls like in fortifications. Another way could be that strong wind lift and carry the tiny seeds until eventually a lucky one gets trapped in a crack in the wall. Carriage of seeds by heavy rain into the wall cracks during the months of September and October could be another plausible explanation. [SM].
Hybrid possibly between A. siculum and A. tortuosum
During a walk in the countryside of the Maltese islands at the end of April, I came across a snapdragon plant which had both features of the A. siculum and the A. tortuosum The colour of the flowers was white with purple patches and purple veins especially at the upper lip. This feature is similar to A. siculum, although the latter has the purple colour usually limited to the lobes of the upper lip only but not the tube. The flower size and shape is then definitely like the A. tortuosum, larger and more defined. The hairy calyx is also alike the A.tortuosum, overlapping and have a broad oval shape. The leaf branches were not so much twisted and bent, hence more similar to the A. siculum, but still there where some twisted leaf branches as in A. tortuosum, however in less numbers. Photos of this hybrid plant can be seen in the photogallery of A. tortuosum. [SM]

There are 2 conclusions that one can arrive to explain this plant - either this is a new Antirrhinum majus sub-species or this plant is a case of hybridization by cross fertilization between A. siculum and A. tortuosum. The latter is more plausible, but then, there is still the question - If cross fertilization is possible between the two Antirrhinum species, why this plant is very rare to encounter in the wild when considering that there are so much of the 2 'parent' plants around the Maltese islands and thus cross pollination is easy to take place?.

This case was reported to Dr. Struber who is an expert on this species amongst others who in turn forwarded the case to Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard L�nnig, Senior Scientist at Max-Planck-Institut f�r Z�chtungsforschung, Germany [WL] . His reply was as follows:

" Well, some years ago I crossed Antirrhinum siculum ('mothers') X Antirrhinum majus ('fathers')

From about 30,000 seeds we obtained only 28 (or 30) F1-plants with intermediate features. So most of the seeds simply did not germinate: we had some 300 pots into which we had sown the seeds, and - after a much longer than the normal period for seed germination, single seedlings appeared in some of these pots). These F1-plants proved to be fertile producing an enormously segregating F2-population.

So crosses in wild populations might also be very rarely successful (even if pollen of one species is often transferred to the style and stigma of the other and vice versa and even if seeds are produced).

This could explain your case. The best would be to take the seeds of the plant you describe and look at the putative F2 population. But, of course, this one plant might already be an F2 individual/descendent of such a F1 plant, so that segregation could be reduced. "
[WL] .

Hence this hybrid plant may be a case of a rare (30 : 30,000) natural occasion of hybridization between A. siculum and A. majus spp tortuousum. After several discussions I and Dr. Lonning arranged that I send him some seeds to his Laboratories in Germany, and he will sow and study the hybrid plant that I found in Malta. Results to follow in few months time. [SM]

Photo Gallery   (30 Images)

Photo of flowers in situ. Flower is generally cream coloured, with purple veined upper petal and yellow patch at center of lower petal.
Photo of flowers with their attractive and quite contrasting purple veins of the upper lip.
Closeup photo of flower in situ.
Close up photo of the bilaterally symmetrical flower.
Photo of flowers with their prominent purple veins.
Photo of flowers of another specimen.
Specimen having flowers with an unusual vivid colours, almost rose-violet instead of pale yellow.
Side view of flowes showing calyx with 5 short, free sepals.
Close up image of flowers of same previous specimen with conspicuous contrasting veins.
Photo showing leaves, flowers and fruit of the Antirrhinum siculum.
Scanned image of a cluster of flowers. The inflorescence are short stalked racemes. Some describes it as a spike, but since stalklets (peduncles) are present it falls under the definition of raceme.
Scanned image of flower against white background.
Scanned annotated image of flower against a dark background (lateral view). Flower consists of an upper and lower specialised petals - called lips - which form a closed tubular structure. The bulged 'throat' of the lower lip is called the palate and for this species it is bright yellow.
Scanned image of 3 flowers : back view, front view, lateral view.
Scanned lateral image of flower opened by means of a match stick inside.
Scanned and annotated image of flower dissection, in particular to show arrangement of reproductive organs. The stamen pair is so close together that the fuse together and form an 'X' shape.
Scanned and annotated image of a flower dissected in 2 parts - the upper and lower lip. The reproductive organs were removed.
Magnified image of reproductive organs of flower. Male part consists of 2 pairs of stamen (white filament and pale yellow anthers) where one pair is longer by few mm from the other. Female part is the ovary (not included), style and green stigma.
Scanned image of development of flower from small bud to mature flower.
Scanned image of a stipule leaf and the outgrowing branch of smaller leaves.
Scanned image of leaves. These are actually stipules, which are larger from the leaf on the branches. Stipules measure about 55mm x 5mm.
Photo of typical habitat of plant - stone or rubble walls.
Photo of few plants growing from cracks in a limestone wall. Dissimination of seeds in such wall cracks is likely to be carried by ants or percolating rain water.
Photo showing plants growing in an old wall of a farm house.
Photo of three flowering stems - the inflorescence is always at the apex.
Scanned image of stem with many fruit capsules along its length. The style and stigma of the flower often persists and remains attached during the fruit formation.
Scanned image of fruit, which is a non operculate poricidal capsule. Cross section shows how the seeds and carpels are arranged inside. The seeds are lying at the outer border just beneath the fruit wall.
Scanned image of dried empty fruit. They have this particular skull-shape structure. The numerous tiny seeds inside the fruit escape from the 3 openings by movement of wind.
Magnified scanned image of seeds. They have irregular cylindrical shape and a rough textured seed coat due to the presence of several ridges.
Magnified image of seeds under light microscope.

Links & Further info

Google Web

Google Images

Yahoo Web

Yahoo Images




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



The Plant List


Vienna Virt. Hb.





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