From its windswept seashores to high mountain pastures, even in winter, Crete’s gorgeous wild flowers have always beckoned nature lovers. But you don’t have to be an expert botanist to marvel at these delicate highlights of the Cretan landscape.
While April and May sees the greatest profusion of wild flowers in bloom, the period between January and March offers a glimpse of some of Crete’s finest species and the harbingers of warmer times. You just need to know where to look, and what to look out for.
The ever-cheerful common Daisy (Bellis perennis) is one of the first to usher in the new year, defying the chill north wind and reminding us that spring is around the corner. A much shyer beauty – perhaps the most loved and popular wild flower of Crete – the orchid is making its first appearance too. With more than 60 species of orchid on the island, some of the most beautiful, like Ophrys mesaritica, (originally found on the Mesara Plain), a rare endemic plant, bloom early.
In February the first anemones appear, their delicate lilac, pink, purple, and sometimes deep red blooms splashing the hillsides with colour. Around ancient Aptera in Apokoronas is a great spot to savour these early risers.
Crete is a flower lover’s paradise. With some 2000 species of plants on the island, some 10 per cent of these grow nowhere else in the world. This is the result of the island’s physical isolation (it broke away from mainland of southern Europe over 5 million years ago), and because Crete’s mountainous terrain allows for unique natural habitats and eco-systems in which particular plants flourish.
Remarkably some 100 of the island’s endemic plants grow in the Lefka Ori mountain range. But remember, nature’s beauty is fragile in Crete. Tread carefully on your explorations. The Red Data Book of Rare and Threatened Plants of Greece (the result of the most detailed recent research on the subject) lists 67 endangered plants growing on Crete, 30 of which are found in the White Mountains.
For those wishing to know more about Crete’s wild flowers there’s a lovingly produced Facebook page ’Flowers of Crete’.
With thanks to writer and administrator of Flowers of Crete, Julia Jones for her kind assistance in the research for this article. All images copyright Julia Jones.