To get an idea of how rich the biodiversity of Crete is, just consider that Crete has almost as many species and subspecies of plants (about 1750) as the whole Britain (1450), even if it is 35 times smaller. This diversity is not only reflected in the total number of species but also in the number of endemic species, which grow only in Crete and nowhere else in the world. In Crete, there are about 160 endemic species and subspecies, which means that 9% of the plant species of Crete do not exist anywhere else in the world.
The Cretan flora has adapted itself so as to resist human interventions and especially the free grazing, which has been a traditional practice in Crete for thousands of years. The plants have developed ways to resist grazing, like thorns or bad taste. There no large forest areas, like for example in Macedonia or Epirus. This is partly because of the grazing and the climatic conditions. However, Crete has some of the rarest biotopes in Europe, like, for example, those of the palm trees (Phoenix theophrasti).
There are some biotopes, which, despite being very small – like, for example, the seasonal lake of Omalos – have amazing biodiversity. The forest species that prevail on the island are the pine tree (Pinus spp) and the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), which are coniferous species with large adaptability to extreme conditions, and the evergreen maple-trees (Acer sempervirens). There are also other species, like the Zelkova abeliceae, which is one of the rarest trees in the world and grows almost exclusively in the White Mountains in small populations. The Cretan flora includes the Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica), an impressive bush that is found only in Crete, the crocus of the Cretan mountains (Crocus oreocreticus), the ladania (Cistus creticus), the bush from which the rockrose is collected, the Cretan bell (Campanula cretica), a rare and very beautiful plant that is found only in the prefecture of Chania, the oleander (Nerium oleander), a very beautiful and impressive bush that often grows on street sides, many species of very beautiful orchids and a lot more.
The most characteristic plants of the island are the aromatic herbs that thrive here. Because of the essential oils that they contain, they are used as ingredients in cooking, in the preparation of teas and as medicines. The thyme (Corridothymus capitatus), the sage (Salvia futicosa), the mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca spp. syriaca), the wild marjoram (Origanum microphyllum), the dittany (Origanum dictamnus) are only some of the herbs that one can see and smell on the island.
THE OAK TREE OF MADALENIS IN KORFES
It is located near the village Korfes of the province of Malevizi. This is a centenarian oak with peculiar botanical value and it is associated with historical events of the region.
THE CRETAN CEPHALANTHERA, KAMARES
It is found at the location known as “Mana Nerou” at an altitude of 1.400 meters, close to the villages Kamares and Voriza of the region of Heraklion.
The protected area is the habitat of the rare and endangered species of orchid, which is named Cephalanthera (Cephalanthera cucullata). It is one of the five species of this genus found in Greece and is endemic in the Mount Psiloritis (Ida) in Crete.
VAI PALM FOREST
Visit the only palmforest in Europe with its clean waters and beautiful beach. It is situated on the northern edge of the region on the headland of Sidero. Its beauty is unique in Crete. The palm trees grow naturally here and their fronds cover the banks of the small stream that leads to the sea, and its surrounding area. Quite apart from its beauty, Vai is also of significant ecological worth. The wetlands created between the edge of the palmforest and the beach are home to a wide variety of birdlife and the ocean is teaming with sea creatures.