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, the area of which 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.
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.
One of the most beautiful evergreen shrubs that can be met in Crete and in other regions of Greece are strawberry trees (Arbutus Unedo). The strawberry trees are found in all the prefectures of Crete and not only in the western Crete, as locals believe. Indeed at the westernmost part of the island we meet them quite often, while in the mountainous provinces of Kissamos and Selino they cover entire slopes often forming low impassable woods.
One of the most intense scents of flowers that one can meet in Crete is that of the famous Daffodils. The daffodils during the winter months adorned the vases of most houses in the villages and cities of Crete. Crete hosts 2-3 of 6 total species of narcissus growing in Greece, called Manousakia in Crete. The most common and well-known species is the Narcissus tazetta.
Anemones (Anemone coronaria L) are among the most beautiful flowers that adorn the nature of Crete. They are annual plants that can reach heights up to 45 cm and there is only one flower per person. Their name is taken after the wind (anemos in Greek) as the ancient Greeks believed that the wind made them bloom. The Cretans most of the time call them poppies, however poppies belong to the species Papaver rhoeas L. The anemones of Crete plants are poisonous but are very beautiful flowers.
Gladiolus italicus is one of the most impressive flowers that decorates the fields of Crete in the late spring. It is distributed across southern Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean. In Crete it is called Maherida (knife plant) due to the purple and pink flowers that are oblong and sharp as knives. Their scientific name also means the same, as Gladius means sword in Latin.