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Snuggled into the cliff-lined coast of Western Gozo is the small sea-inlet of Dwejra with its interesting geological curiosities. First to strike the visitor's eye is the rocky knoll in the sea, a few meters from the coastline. On the flat, slanting top of this huge rock grows a rare mushroom-like plant or fungus to which, popular belief attributes medicinal properties for the cure of dysentery and haemorrhage.

Some say it also has aphrodisiac properties. The plant is botanically named Coccineus Melitensis; but, in Gozo, people call it the Gozitan Mushroom. The 'fungus' sprouts in December and reaches maturity in mid-spring. When ripe, it attains the shape of a reddish core, of soft pulpy substance, about 16cm long.

In 1744, Grand Master Pinto ordained that this plant be reserved for the Order's exclusive use, and he declared the rock on which it thrived out of bounds to all intruders, on pain of death. The 'fungus' was put to use in the Order's hospitals, but the Grand Master presented specimens to his royal friends in Europe.

The famous knoll, which is also known as the General's Rock, was constantly guarded and access to it, by authorised persons, was by a system of extended ropes and a sliding wooden seat.

The rock has preserved its traditions, and today it is still a nature sanctuary protected by law.

Text courtesy of the National Tourism Organisation - Malta.