Crete has a rich biodiversity and the best moment to witness this is in the spring when the flora is at its best. Over 1.700 species have been recorded up to date in Crete, many of which are endemic. Some remote areas of the island, especially the White Mountains and the surrounding islets are home to many stenoendemic species and subspecies, i.e. plants that are only distributed in this limited area.
Every year these rare species attract botanists from all over the world. They come to study wild flowers, including impressive native Cretan orchids. Moreover, endemic tulips grow on the White Mountains, on the Dikti range, on the Gramvousa peninsula and in the small botanical paradise of Gious Kampos in Rethymnon.
Crete is also famous for its aromatic plants and herbs that grow everywhere on the island. Many of them have been used since ancient times for their therapeutic properties and they are currently cultivated in many places of the island.
Great Britain, whose area is 40 times larger than the island of Crete, encompasses almost the same number of species of plants. This is indicative for the variety of species available on the island.
Malotira (Sideritis syriaca), also known as Cretan Mountain tea is a herbaceous plant or shrub, 10-50cm long, which is met at ranges over 900m in West Crete (over 900m). The species is endemic to Crete and the name syriaca (instead of cretica) probably comes from a confusion of the botanist who gave the name.
Dittany (Origanum dictamnus) (Greek: diktamos) is an endemic herb of Crete, the most famous of all, which is mainly used as a tea and as a therapeutic sip. Its name is taken after the Dikti Range (Lassithi Mountains), though it is also met in all ranges of Crete.
Cretan zelkova (Greek: Anegnoro or Ampelitsa) (scient. Zelkova abelicea) is an endemic bush or small tree of Crete as high as 3-5 meters. It constitutes a unique species of the genre Zelkova, of the family Ulmaceae and is characterized as a living fossil. It took the name "Anegnoro" (i.e. unknown) because when it was discovered, nobody knew its species.
The holly or Kermes oak is a species that resembles common oak. In Crete it is met in all mountainous regions and is one of the most common trees. The oaks are met in ranges of Crete, as they can grow in rocky and dry soils and withstand the extreme weather conditions there. Indeed, the beautiful oak forest of Rouvas is the largest grove of oaks in Europe.
The plane tree can be met in every place of Greece (valleys, ravines, lakes, river banks and village squares). It also found almost everywhere in Crete and is one of the most typical plants of the Cretan flora. Perhaps no other tree, except the olive tree, is so closely associated with the daily life of the Cretans, as the plane tree because has been the spectator of all historical local events.
The carob tree can be met everywhere, even on the sidewalks, because of the dense shade and the zero care it needs. Its name (ceratonia) means horn in Greek and is taken after the shape of its edible seed pods. Carob tree can reach a height of 18m and the age of 100 years, while its leaves are round, hard, dense and frost- tolerant. It grows in the arid and rocky coastal areas of the island at an average distance from each other.
The cedars of Crete (Juniperus macrocarpa and Juniperus phoenicea) form some of the most important ecosystems in Greece, the cedar groves on the dunes of southern Crete. The ecological importance of the dunes is enormous for the biodiversity and the existence of rare animals and plants.
The palm of Theophrastus (Phoenix theophrasti), also known as Cretan Date Palm is a rare endemic species of the Aegean Sea, which is met all over Crete, in several Aegean islands and in Antalya (southwestern Turkey).
The Cretan cephalanthrera (Cephalanthera cucullata) is an endemic species of orchid that grows exclusively in the mountain forests of Crete, at an altitude of 700-1500m. It is a perennial herbaceous plant with short, creeping rhizomes. Its height reaches up to 20cm and it develops up to 24 whitepinkish flowers from May to June, but it does not bloom every year. In late June the seeds ripen and the aboveground plant parts dry.
The white sand lily (scient. Pancratium maritimum), also known as sea daffodil, amaryllis, lily of Knossos, saffron or crocus is a charming plant that overwhelms the dunes of Crete from August to October. Unfortunately, in recent years its population has been limited to a few beaches, due to the shrinking of its habitats. Thus, the lily is today considered as endangered species and is protected by Greek and international legislation.
The cretan cyclamen belongs to the family of Primoulides. In many places of Greece, cyclamens are also called "hiropsomο" (i.e. bread for pig), because their roots are eaten by pigs. They grow in the middle of autumn between rock fissures or in the rubble.
The white sage-leaved rock-rose (Cistus salvifolius) is one of the most beautiful white flowers of Crete. It is met in all counties of the island at medium altitudes up to almost 900 meters and always in phyllitic acidic grounds. It is not as well known as its related purple cousin (Cistus creticus) because it does not produce the famous laudanum.
During spring, many places throughout the island of Crete are adorned with the purple - blue flowers of the wild lupines (Lupinus varius) which is one of the most beautiful and characteristic plants of the entire Mediterranean area. Lupins, known as loubinia in Crete are annual plants with hairy leaves with a shape of a hand palm consisting of 9-11 leaves usually.
One of the most impressive spring plants of Crete is Aristolocheia (Aristolochia cretica). It is a perennial plant that creeps on the ground and has flowers that are truly impressive and have a shape resembling a saxophone or boot. This plant is typically found on dry rocky soils of Crete and Carpathos. In Crete it is found all over the island, but especially in Lassithi prefecture (east Crete).
Artikas or the giant fennel (Ferula communis) has a prominent place in Greek mythology as this plant was used by Prometheus to bring people the fire from the gods. The reason is that the interior thick trunk of artikas consists of a soft foam-like flammable material and its burning lasts, making it a natural torch.
In autumn the land of Crete before the first rainfalls fall is adorned with various flowers that bloom literally in the summer dry land, signaling the resurrection of the earth that will follow. The family of Colchicum blooms in the fall and decorates the dry land. The Colchicum plants growing in Crete are all poisonous and this is the main reason they are not endangered with extinction.
Allover Crete we meet five different species of saffron (crocus). The most common kind of it is Crocus laevigatus, the "smooth" crocus. It is called smooth in Greek because the robes of the bulb are smooth. It is endemic to southern Greece, Cyclades and Crete.
One of the most beautiful flowers that we meet in Crete is the Paeonia Clusii. This is one of the 33 species of peonies on the planet and is endemic to Crete and Karpathos isle. It belongs to the family Ranidae and is also known as the Cretan Peony. It is found only at high altitudes, especially in the mountains of Dikti and the White Mountains. The impressive flower of peony has white or pinkish purple color and only a few people have seen it.
The vrouves is one of the most famous and classic family of greens found in the cultivated fields in the villages of Crete. They sprout everywhere and from ancient times the Cretans consume them. They usually gather the upper part of the plants and eat them boiled with lemon and olive oil, they also use them in pies.
The Cretan bellflower (Campanula Cretica) is one of the most beautiful wild flowers of Crete and at the same time is one of the most rare and endangered endemic plants on the island. Despite the fact Greece is home to 70 bellflower species, making Greece as the country with the largest variety, this is met only in a small geographical area of the White Mountains, mainly Samaria Gorge, and elsewhere in the world.