The Naturalist on Chios, Greece.
Mike Taylor , Liverpool Museum.
Wildflowers on Chios
The wildflowers of Chios can be enjoyed by visitors throughout the year. However the variety and profusion of flowers is greatest from late winter to early summer.
Autumn and winter landscapes have fine showings of Colchicum, Cyclamen, Crocus, Sternbergia and many other plants.
In late winter, flowers of the Giant Orchid, Himantoglossum robertianum, appear in widespread localities throughout Chios. As the season progresses a succession of many different species of flowers reveal themselves and paint the landscapes in an ever changing pallette of colours.
Due to the non-intensive and patchy agricultural practices in Chios there are always places of varied botanical interest in close proximity to each other, so many different species can be found in relatively small areas. The varied geology, the height of the hills and mountains and the climatic differences within the slopes, valleys and watercourses of the island coupled with the influences of compass orientation, gives Spring flowers at Managros numerous niche microclimates. The succession of flowers in the south of the island comes weeks earlier than on the northern mountain slopes, so a visitor in the peak flowering season can experience early, mid and late flowering species by moving relatively short distances.
The succession of spring and summer flowers includes four species of Anemones, four species of Tulip, four species of Poppies, Gladiolus, Cistus, Spartium, Nigella, Iris and many other species. Herbs including Sage and Origanum are in abundance and they contribute in great measure to the sweet perfumes which pervade the air of Chios during the flowering period. There are many superb locations offering very different flower rich displays, amongst the best are:
Kato Fana on the southern coast of Chios has a fine undeveloped sandy beach, brackish pools, and flower rich areas behind the beach. It is particularly good for its displays of beach and dune flora in April and for Holy Orchid, Orchis sancta, in May.
Managros beach on the west coast of Chios near Volissos is a 3 Km long stretch of sand and gravel beach with a superb undeveloped hinterland of dunes and sandy gravels with a rich associated flora. The displays of spring flowers are particularly stunning and are at their best in late March to mid April.
Marmaro Marsh is the only remaining significant permanent freshwater marsh on Chios and offers fine displays of the associated specialist marsh plants.
Pelinaeon mountain has been the subject of botanical research for many years and has yielded several new species endemic to the mountain and so far not yet found anywhere else. These species include a dwarf Cherry, Prunus prostratum and a beautiful yellow Fritillary, Fritillaria pelinea. The slopes at 2000 ft above the village of Viki are complete carpets of numerous species of flowering plants in April, reminiscent of alpine meadows.
Kampia Gorge is a deep narrow valley in the north of Chios featuring a permanent stream and many mature deciduous trees. It is two miles long and contains many interesting plants. It also has great scenic beauty and is at its best in mid May when the explorer can enjoy its cooling dappled shade and plants and creatures to the accompanyment of serenading Nightingales.
Coastal cliffs near Vrondados and Emporios, both on the east coast, are the habitat of the local and beautiful Campanula hagielia flowering in April and only found in the eastern Aegean and western Anatolia.
The lower hills in south central and south Chios near the villages of Pyrgi, Olympi and Mesta are rich in maquis flora and are particularly good for some of the rarer orchids.
In central Chios the western coastal village of Lithi and the inland villages of Anavatos and Avgonima are particularly rich in Orchids and Iris where numerous species are common amongst the limestone rocks.
As an example of the richness of the Chios flora one can do no better than describe the extensive numbers of taxa of orchids so far discovered on the island. Whilst the list is impressively large, there must be many other species on Chios which are as yet undetected. In the last two seasons, 2002 and 2003, five taxa have been added to the list. Orchid research on Chios has also been undertaken by occasional visits by botanists including Hirth and Spaeth, however much of the credit for our current knowledge must go to Pandelis Saliaris, a Civil Engineer working for the Region of the Northeast Aegean, who spends most of his free time during the orchid flowering season looking for new species and mapping the locations of all the species on the island. He recently published his illustrated book on the Orchids of Chios.
For a number of years Pandelis has hosted visits to Chios by a number of European orchid specialists. In recognition of the richness of its orchid flora, now shown to be one of the richest in Europe with well over 80 taxa, the International Orchid Convention will be taking place in Chios in 2005, timed to coincide with the flowering time of some of the rare species. This convention is supported by the Prefect, Mayors and citizens of Chios who are keen to encourage visits of 'Eco-tourists'.
By way of illustration of the range of taxa on Chios, the following notes will give the reader an impression of the potential for visiting orchid enthusiasts.
Ophrys homeri. This rare orchid was found in Chios in 1991 by the German botanists Hirth and Spaeth and described by them and published as a new species in 1997, with Chios as the type locality. It has been found subsequently in Kos and Lesvos, and in Mugli, Turkey. It has been found in a many places in central and southern areas of Chios including Elinta, Lithi, Ag Pateres and Pyrgi where it flowers in April and May.
Ophrys straussii var leucotenia. Ophrys straussii and the closely related Ophrys reinholdii have been known to occur on Chios since the early 1990's when they were found in two localities in the northwest growing amongst oak trees where they flower in March and April. In May 2003 I found, in the company of Pandelis Saliaris, eight plants of O.straussii var leucotenia at about 2000 ft altitude on the northern slopes of Pelinaeon in open pine woods. The type locality of this variety is in the Antalya region of southwest Turkey where it is known only from six sites, hitherto the only known locations until its discovery on Chios.
Ophrys phrygia. This species was described in 1923 from plants found in the Antalya region of southwest Turkey, still the principal location for the species. It was discovered in several place on Chios within the last ten years mainly in central and northern parts of the island including Vrondados, Viki and Issidoros where it flowers in May.
Ophrys fleischmanii. This rare and localised species is a Greek endemic, previously known from Crete, Central Cyclades and Attica. It has also been found in several widespread localities on Chios including Vrondados, Mesta, Lithi, and Pelinaeon where it flowers in March and April.
Ophrys omegaifera. Another rare and localised species described in 1923 from plants found in Crete. It is now known from the Cyclades, Crete, Karpathos and Rhodes. The plants on Chios representing the most northerly known location. In Chios it has been found at many locations throughout the island including Viki, Vrondados, Anavatos and Mesta. It is also found in south-west Anatolia. It flowers from early March to mid April.
Ophrys regis-ferdinandii. This attractive, rare and local orchid was described in 1939 from plants found in Rhodes. It has now also been found in Simi, Tilos, and Samos. It is widespread and locally common in the southern half of Chios. It has also been discovered in Turkey near Cesme and Kucadaci. It flowers in March and April.
Orchis anatolica. This beautiful orchid is widespread and locally abundant on Chios, though it is generally considered to be local and rare elsewhere. It occurrs in a great variety of colour forms and its abundance has lead to the presence of many hybrids with other species on the island. It flowers from March to May. It is also known from the Cyclades and Crete in the west, to Lebanon, Syria and Israel in the east.
Orchis sancta. This attractive orchid is widespread and common throughout the lower areas of Chios. Its name of sancta was given because the flower has the appearance of a face hooded by a monks cowl. It is considered a rare orchid within its range of Greece, Turkey, and on the Meditteranean coast down to Israel, however it occurs in large numbers on Chios, particularly behind the beach at Kato Fana in May when it flowers after the leaves have died down.
Orchis anthropophora. I discovered this orchid on Chios in April 2002, near Olympi. It is generally considered to be rare in the eastern Aegean, though it has also been found on Lesvos. A detailed search around the original site near Olympi in 2003 found over twenty plants, with a further eight plants at a new site north of Mesta and three plants near Limenas. The individual florets are most attractive, resembling a cream and pink human figure wearing a bowler hat. The plants in Chios were all found in and near maquis vegetation with juniper content.
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