The flora of Crete
The flora of Crete

Crete boasts a rich and diverse flora, with its wealth not just quantified by the number of species but also by the prevalence of endemic species found only in this region.

Crete has a rich and diverse flora as it has 1,750 species and subspecies of plants. Indicative of the richness of the Cretan flora is that it has a greater number of plants compared to England while it is 35 times smaller in area.

The wealth of Cretan flora is not solely measured by the sheer number of species but also by the high percentage of endemism, the number of species that exclusively grow in Crete. In total, there are 160 endemic species on the island. Over time, and influenced by human activities such as grazing, the flora of Crete has evolved to become robust. Many plants have developed thorns or possess characteristics that enable them to withstand grazing, such as holly and wild olive.

Crete may not have extensive forested areas due to grazing, but it boasts some of Europe's most unique and rare habitats, such as the palm habitats of Theophrastus. Additionally, there are smaller yet ecologically valuable habitats like the Omalos Lake, which supports diverse biodiversity. These distinct habitats contribute to the island's ecological richness.

Crete's forested areas are primarily characterised by the presence of cypress, pine, various coniferous species, and evergreen maple. Notably, Lefka Ori (White Mountains) host the exclusive growth of the relatively unknown tree Cretan zelkova (Zelkova abeliceae), making it one of the rarest trees globally.

Indeed, Crete's most distinctive type of flora includes aromatic herbs that serve various purposes, from crafting beverages to enhancing culinary creations and even for their medicinal properties. These herbs typically thrive in the island's dry and arid regions, as well as in its forests and gorges. Proper collection and drying techniques are essential for preserving their quality without additional processing. Among the renowned herbs are sage, thyme, ironwort (mountain tea), dittany, and wild marjoram, each contributing to the island's rich herbal tradition.

The flora of Crete is incredibly diverse, featuring a wide array of unique and endemic plant species. Some noteworthy examples include the saffron of the mountains, the endemic Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica), the Cretan bell flower (exclusive to Chania), the lovely oleander shrub, the Gallipoli rose, and many others.

Crete boasts an impressive array of perennial trees, including notable specimens like the oak tree of Korfos in Malevizi, Heraklion, the plane tree in the village of Vlatos, Kissamos, the towering hawthorn in Zominthos, which reaches an impressive height of 12 metres (unusually tall for this species, which is typically a shrub or low tree), and the monumental olive trees and sacred trees that date back to the Minoan Era.

Photo: By Via