About Crete - Flora and Fauna
Crete is known for the wide variety of its natural flora. It is estimated that the island is home to 2,000 different kinds of plants, many of which only grow on Cretan land, such as the famous evergreen, Platanus orientalis. Along the Cretan land spread green areas of unique natural beauty. One can admire beautiful wildflowers, anemones, daffodils, osiers and the wild ranunculus. On the mountain slopes grow cypress-, plane-, chestnut-, and oak-trees. The greatest variety of rare plants grows in the gorges, especially in the famous Samaria gorge, which is a known National Park. Here, one comes across rare plants, like the Ebenus cretica, Campanula pelviformis, Gladolius italicus, Linum arboreum, Staechelina arborea, Cyclamen creticum, Chrysanthemum coronarium, Cistus villosuscreticus and Petromarcula pinnata. In the rest of the island varieties such as Tulipa bakeri, Anchusa caespitosa, Erysinum raulinu, Dianthus juniperinus, Dianthus pulviniformis, Asperula idaea and Scabiosa minoana can be found. Finally, of singular natural beauty is the palm-forest of Vai, where Phoenix theophrastu grows, a variety unique to this part of Greece.
Crete is the home of a rich variety of flora that contain, among many hundreds of others, 130 species of wild flowers and herbs which are unique to it. Among these are dictamo (Organium dictamus), an herb made famous by Aristotle for its medicinal value. Another unusual feature is an evergreen variety, Varietus cretica.
Spring is the best time to enjoy the flora of Crete, after the generous winter rainfall. The fields are ablaze with red poppies and the air is heavy with the scent of orange and lemon blossoms. Dry scrub predominates the landscape in the summer, and oleander and osier bloom in the ravines. During winter, anemones are abundant.
The rarest Cretan plants grow in the ravines or on the steep mountain slopes, such as in the Faragi Imbrou (Imbros Gorge), near the Kalergis Mountain Refuge, and on the Oropedio Spiliou. These include Ebenus cretica, Linum arboreum (flax), Campanula pelviformis (bellflower), Staechelina arborea, and Petromarcula arboreum. Plants flourishing on the plains and high peaks include: Tulipa bakeri and Tulipa saxalitis (tulips), Anchusa caespitosa (alkanet), Scabiosa alborincta and Scabiosa minoana (scabious). The Cretan palm (Phoenix theophrastii), unique in the world, grows along the beach at Vai. Rare plants found along the shore include: Pancratium maritime (sea daffodil), Centaurea pumilio (knapsweed), Anthemis tomentell and Anthemis filicaulis (chamomile).
Crete is well known for the cretan goat, otherwise called "kri - kri" which is found mainly in the Gorge of Samaria. The archaeological excavations, which have brouth to light many a wall paintings of the "kri - kri", testify to the view that this animal was worshiped on the island during antiquity. Its rareness is one of the reasons that led to the Gorge of Samaria becoming a national park. However, "kri - kri" have been spotted in the nearby islands of Dia, Theodoros and Aghioi Pantes. From the Cretan countryside, there could not been absent animals less rare, which are found in many parts of Greece. Among them, the rabbit, the wild cat or fourogatos and a unique kind of mouse. Among the birds, in the Cretan mountains we distinguish the golden eagle and the eagle Gyps Fulvus, while there are many kinds of traveling birds which make a stop on the island as they travel to the south.
The fauna of Crete are as varied as the flora. The unique Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus-cretica) has a distinctive and impressive appearance. Protected by the government, the agrimi or "kri-kri" is found in the Lefka Ori, in the Samaria National Forest, and on the islets of Dia, Thodorou, and Agii Pandes.
The Cretan "prickly rat" (Acomus mimus) is also unique in the world. Other interesting mammals include the Cretan marten (Martes foina-bunites), the Cretan badger (Melesmeles-arcalus), and the Cretan wildcat (Felis silvestris agrius).
Several kinds of lizard inhabit the island. The brightly coloured Balkan green lizard can grow to be over one metre in length. There is one poisonous snake, although locals claim that St. Titus drove all poisonous snakes off the island.
Bird life on the island is extensive. 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.