Greece: Types of Habitat

Beaches

beach trees tolerate saltOne of the most commonly seen trees growing on the edges of beaches in Greece is the tamarisk (which Greeks call, almirikia, a name based on the word for 'salty', 'almiro'). These trees with feathery foliage are well-adapted to their salty environment, and are often planted in such areas to provide shade. Sand dunes are also habitat for many flowers, as well as for the juniper tree, which is prickly, low, and gnarled.

Streams, Rivers & Lakes

wetlandsTwo very common trees found along these watercourses are the large-canopied plane trees, with their fuzzy seed heads, broad leaves, and knobbly wide trunks, and the more slender oleander, the latter often growing in sandy areas, with yellow or pink blossoms. This is an extremely poisonous plant, and hence never in danger of being grazed by animals!

A common plant seen in Greece that survives dry periods is Arundo donax, a giant reed often confused with calamus (and in fact called 'kalami'by the Greeks), grows in many places and is often planted on the edges of cultivated fields as a windbreak.

This bamboo-like cane has also been long used as a traditional 'ceiling' in older Greek houses in the Aegean islands, often with very thin end-pieces lined up and held in place with chestnut beams laid at right angles to it.

Fields and meadows

almond pearCultivated land is often dotted with colorful flowers, such as yellow or white daisies, blue bugloss, scarlet poppies, wild pea, vetches, grape hyacinth, and others. Olive groves that haven't been sprayed with herbicides have a love carpet of wildflowers, but, sadly, many are sprayed and are taken over by a resistant, yellow-flowering oxalis, which also invades every crack in every wall where there is even a speck of dirt, and crowds grassy areas everywhere as well.

Hillsides

Many low hillsides are not easily used for cultivation, being rocky and uneven, and hence left to develop a natural habitat as knowngarrigue, which is a mixture of shrubs and perennials, which in turn may develop into a denser habitat known as maquis, with shrubs that have reached the size of small trees after some wet winters (and in the absence of grazing), with climbers twining around them. Common plants found in early spring in this habitat include crete white mountiansgorse, brooms, giant fennel, Jerusalem sage, rock-rose (cistus), arbutus (strawberry tree). A third type of vegetation is phrygana, with smaller, aromatic or spiny shrubs growing in hummock-like bushes with some bare ground between them. Some varieties of phrygana are traditionally collected and used by villagers as tinder to light fires, as the needles of such plants become bone-dry in summer. Native to these areas are aromatic herbs such as sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary, and savory, all of these mixed in with other plants such as the spiny burnet or euphorbias (which, though toxic, are a lovely warm yellow-green color). There are various irises found in Greece, including a lovely early small blue one, another black and green, a taller white one; orchids number nearly 160 species, and are often picked by people despite their designation as protected plants.

Mountains and gorges

High altitude mountains, found as far south as Crete (right), though more on the Greek mainland, see plants flowering later than at lower altitudes, with snow lasting through May in some areas. Limestone peaks both on the mainland and on islands (Crete, Rhodes, Kefalonia, to name only a few), have many flowering plants adapted to rocky terrain which are related to flora found in the Balkan Alps or in the Taurus mountains of Turkey. Gorges, as seen above, offer protected habitat for many plants and birds, with many of Greece's endemic plants found in them, as well as in mountains in general.

umbrella pine are very commonMore on forests

Though touched on in the beginning of this overviews, it should be added here that woodlands in the south of Greece have different kinds of trees than in the north, with cypress, Greek fir and various types of pine predominating,though there is also holm and kermes oak, whereas further north there are also yew, juniper, hornbeam, beech, poplar, chesnut, and maple (though chestnuts are found in western Crete, too, especially in the socalled 'chesnut villages' to the southwest of Hania). In very high altitudes, Forests provide a cooler habitat for many plants which could not survive in the intense heat of Greek summers. Above the treeline on very high mountains, summer meadows and even bare rock provide habitats to other flora, and to specialized birdlife as well.

reed bedsA note on Birds

Covered in much detail above, it might simply be pointed out here that the migratory birds mentioned above winter in East Africa and pass through the eastern Mediterranean between mid-March and mid-May (or even later), on their way to Europe, some of them stopping over in Greece to breed.

During their return in autumn, they are much more scattered, so that those wanting to see great masses of them do best to come in spring.