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.
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.