Flowers trees and flora of Crete
Botanically speaking, Crete today is as Britain would have been in
Elizabethan times, vast swathes of daises and poppies, so many orchids it is
difficult to find a path between them and always the fresh, clean smell of
pine and wild herbs in the air.
Many visitors to this enchanted island are not aware of the vast richness of its flora and fauna. Indeed, it is hard to believe that after the blisterig heat of a Cretan summer, the autumn rains can turn the island into a truly spectacular botanical garden.
The geographical position of Crete, its variation of altitude and terrain and its climate have resulted in an island that has a superb diversity of trees, flowers and plants.
It is estimated that the island is home to around 2,000 different kinds of plants, many of which are endemic to Crete. Natura 2000 programme in Crete has identified 55 unique ecotopes on the island and 160 species of flora that is not to be found anywhere outside of Crete. Often these unique plants are found high in the mountains and include the rare Cretan Zelkova. Botanists believe that in hidden valleys and inaccessible gorges there are still treasures to be discovered. This large, Mediterranean island has been and still is the focus of interest for botanists, horticulturalists and scientists from around the world. Cretan flora is identified by botanists as Mediterranean forest, woodlands and scrub.
The island is rich in chestnut, oak, cedar, palm and olive trees as well as the famous evergreen, Platanus Orientalis the oriental plane which is endemic to Crete and other islands in the south but has now been transplanted in many areas over mainland Greece. Finally, of particular natural beauty is the unique palm forest of Vai.
At the lower elevations there are semi-deciduous oak forests which include species such as kermes oak, juniper, carob and spurge. At the middle elevations are the pine forests including the Mediterranean pine, Brutia Pinespinus and the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), more of a shrub than a tree, and which can endure heavy grazing by sheep and goats. At the highest elevation, in the mountain regions, once can see cypress woodlands, Maple and thorny scrublands.
The landscape is especially rich in herbs and pharmaceutical plants such as oregano, thyme and labdanum. This profusion of wild herbs have been gathered over the millennia and used for healing and medicinal tisanes. One such herb is dittany or "erondas" which is particularly beneficial for stomach ache and arthritis and was known to be used by the Minoans. Hippocrates was also aware of its therapeutic benefits and, today, it can be purchased in powder form or as an essential oil.
Crete also has a staggering variety of flowers and, due to the climate and terrain, the island is in bloom from early spring through to the autumn, but in spring especially, whole areas of the island are carpeted in wild flowers. There is also an infinite variety of colour, scent and size of wild flowers. Some are found all over the Mediterranean world such as chamomile, poppies, anemones, iris, and field gladiolus whereas others, like the wild orchids are endemic to Crete. In the summer the sea daffodil can be seen in some areas growing on the sandy beaches. In the autumn the sweet smelling Aromatic Inula or sticky fleabane can be seen growing along the roadsides and in uncultivated fields.
The greatest variety of plants however grow in the many gorges. In the Samaria gorge, for example, many rare plants grow such as chrysanthemum, gladioli and campanula.