Cretan Ecosystem


The Flora of Crete consists of trees and plants, which can also be found in other regions of Greece and the wider Mediterranean area. Out of more than 2,000 species which can be found in Crete, 160 of them are endemic to the island (i.e. found nowhere else). This is easily explained as Crete is an island and its ecosystem is isolated due to the surrounding sea.

Common trees in Crete are the tamarisk (Tamarix cretica), oak, chestnut, pine, cypress and the evergreen plane tree (Platanus orientalis). This grows close to water and it can grow up to 30 meters high. It is also quite often found in the village squares, offering its shade to people. A huge plane tree, or platanos in Greek, can be seen at Topolia village in west Crete on the road from Kissamos to Elafonissi.

It is so huge that the local community has declared it a "Monument of Nature". Another famous plane tree is the one in Krassi village on the way from Iraklion to Lassithi Plateau (the trunk of which has the largest circumference of any plane tree in Europe). Undoubtedly, the most famous plane tree is the one in Gortyn, which according to mythology, was where Zeus "married" Europe after he kidnapped her from Asia Minor. Of singular natural beauty is the palm-forest of Vai, where Phoenix theophrasti grows, a variety unique to Crete. Another famous palm forest is the Preveli one. A much smaller and less known one exists at Agios Antonios in south Iraklion district.


The Cretan flora is especially rich in herbal and pharmaceudical plants like origano, thyme and labdanum. Indeed ,quite a big percentage of these are collected ,dried and sold to the local market and abroad. Also herbs like sage and rosemary are very common in Crete and they have been used for thousands of years for culinary and medical purposes. Dittany (Origanum dictamus), dictamos or erontas in greek, is another Cretan herb. Dittany grows wild in steep cliffs and it is very good for stomach-ache. Today it is also cultivated in Vianos area in the villages of Xeniako, Milliarado and Katofigi. In shady areas white cyclamens (Cyclamen creticum) can be found. Unfortunately cyclamens are considered an endangered species, so when you see them do not cut them, just take a photo of them. In April and May Crete is covered by wildflowers: poppies, daisies, camomile, iris (Iris cretica), gladiola (Gladiolus italicus), tulips (Tulipa orphanidea), hyacinth (Muscari commosum) and various species of Cretan orchids.



Crete has also a varied fauna. There are certain subspecies of animals that are indigeneous only in Crete, like the local wild goat, kri kri, and the Cretan tree frog. There are also various birds from a number of subspecies of the common hawk, to the grey heron. The Cretan golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) and the lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), a subspecies unique to Crete, are distinctive among the birds. The mountains and ravines are home to griffon vultures. Warblers and swallows are common and goldfinches are occasionally seen. Migratory birds make Crete a stopover each spring on their way from Africa to Europe and on the return trip each autumn. Finally, the sea life is fairly varied, and certain beaches in the south of the island offer protection to the caretta-caretta (sea turtle) during its reproduction period.