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Flowers and vegetation of Greece
"Stranger you have reached a famous land,
Here in green foliage chants the nightingale,
Here is the forest home of reveling Dionysus
with nymphs that nurse him.
Here, day after day,
Blooms the fair narcissus, fed on dew,
The flower that crowns the goddesses,
And here as well
Glows the golden crocus…"
From Sophocles, Oedipus at Colunus
I visited Greece and I'm just returned at home, and I visited this land in the best season to appreciate both the complete flowering and the archaeological sites, without an annoying crowd of tourists. The fragrant orgy of the warm Greek spring and summer was simply irresistible not to lock away in digital form for the gloomiest days of winter...Here are some of them as a small tribute to the glory of scented walks in that country...
Greece is a hive where Mother Nature thrives. The rich fertile soil from the coastal regions, mountains plateaus, gorges host so many species of wondrous plants and flowers.
Greece is endowed with a rich and diversified natural environment as a result of a rare geomorphology, with many striking natural contrasts and areas of great ecological value. Thousands of indented coasts, imposing rocky massifs, gorges, caves, rivers, lakes, biotopes of spectacular beauty and unique habitats in combination with the mild climate create a very unique place on the earth. This incredible combination allows Mother Nature to display her wonderful colour spectrum; moreover, Greece does not only carry the secrets of an ancient civilization, but also puts a very rich flora and fauna on display for those who may be seeking to spend time in the Nature's arm: there, the two pleasures are always closely united! Along the roadsides and in the meadows there are anemones, daffodils, yellow daisies and blood-red poppies, as if daubed there by a giant hand.
Wander through the majestic mountain gorges, following stream beds lined with brilliant pink and white oleander and shaded by tall plane trees. Stroll along the sandy beaches in the beginning of summer to find the fragrant white sea daffodil whose beauty inspired Bronze Age artists on Thera.
The location of Greece at the meeting-point of three continents, together with the relief of its terrain which includes a multitude of high mountains and hundreds of kilometers of coastline, has endowed it with a rich flora comprising almost 6,000 different species, and Greece is also particularly rich in unique plant species. This huge number in relation to its area of only 132,000 square kilometers, places it in the first rank in Europe with respect to the density of flora: in proportion to its size, Greece has more species of flowers that does any other European country or the United States. A large proportion of them have very restricted geographical distributions, prospering in remote mountain peaks, in vertical calcareous rocky slopes, in any of the thousands gorges, or islets of Greece. All this defines Greece as the botanical paradise of Europe. Encompassing snow capped mountain ranges, lush plains and the brilliant blue coastline of the Mediterranean, Greece is a majestic country that contains a variety of lovely plant species suited to the country's climate. Greece is home to many flowering plants, and is still the house of the Nymphs. The wild flowers create spectacular views, among the ancient ruins, anemones, gladioli, cyclamens, irises, tulips, lilies and many more. Especially during spring, all hillsides are carpeted with flowers, which seem to sprout even from the rocks.
The Greek people, living in such a remarkably diverse country, rich also in indigenous plants, recognized the uniqueness of the flora since ancient times, and came to know their uses, both for food (eaten raw, consumed after cooking, dried before use or consumed after processing), and for their non-food properties (medicinal, aromatic, dye, and ornamental plants). It is to Theophastus that we owe the classical theories on the medicinal uses of the wild plants, and it is also well known that Dioscorides had studied, recognised, and classified more than 500 wild plants that had effects on several different illnesses of the human body. Plants like peonies, hellebore, henbane, hemlock, mandrake, meadow saffron, hypericum, are just a few of the well known wild plants used as medicaments since antiquity and in use even today.
Plant growth, in this land, is active in the late winter, inactive and often completely suspended in midsummer. Many species flower early and complete their life cycle long before summer. As the vegetation responds to the annual rhythm of the seasons, striking changes become apparent. The rich greenery of late winter and early spring is followed by a flush of brilliant color heralding the peak of flowering in March, April and May. After the harvest in late May and June, the lush green of the landscape fades as the summer drought intensifies. Hot summer sunshine, cloudless days and constant breezes prevail until autumn rains arrive in October to transform the landscape once more.
So, springtime is the best time to see a massive array of beautiful flowers, when the mountains, plains, woods and even seashores are covered with flowers and wild vegetation. In April, May and June, Greece is abundant in wild flowers, the fields laden with red poppies and the air full of the lemon and orange flavors may leave you mesmerize in these days. Fragrant wild herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary are very common and add a wonderful aroma to the hillsides. Chamomile, poppies, anemones, iris, acanthus and many other species of wonderful flowers grow all over this fabulous country, even in a city like the densely populated Athens, with its mad traffic. Meadows of vibrant scarlet red poppies or hillsides covered by bushes of lavender and thyme create a so wonderful scene that is really breathtaking.
Some of these plants are also found in such natural habitats as the garrigues and the rocky areas, or along the roadsides, in areas degraded by the process of urbanization, and on old walls and ruins, where they color an often otherwise anonymous environment with their flowers and offer food and shelter to small animals. Contributing to creating the unequaled fascination of Greece's many archaeological sites, are the great number of frugal and ruderal species insinuated among the cracks and the stones.
"May our acquaintance with this wonderful world of Nature instil in us the love and the respect which are essential for its greater and more effective protection."