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Home / About Malia / Malia's Countryside / Botanical Paradise
Botanical Paradise

If you’re curious about Malia’s rich plant life, you won’t be disappointed; walking along the beach or in the hills and mountains, you’ll see that it hosts many different, but also sometimes rare plants in full bloom, mainly in spring.

Located on a crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa, Crete - and thus Malia - carries species of flora from all 3 continents. Completely different from northern Europe’s flora, it is nevertheless not unrelated: one can easily recognize heather (Erica) or oak, although most species will be unfamiliar.

Crete’s flora counts about 1,800 species; Britain – 30 times the size of Crete – counts 1,550. Of those 1,800, about 160 are endemic only to Crete, which means that they grow nowhere else. This is a high percentage, compared to Britain’s 16, or Germany’s mere 6 endemic species.

In the low lying, sandy beach habitat of Malia and Stalis you’ll find the Sea Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum), a perennial with thick, flat, ribbon-shaped leaves 2 – 4cm. wide and carrying a large, fragrant flower from August to October, the beauty of which inspired the Minoans for their wall paintings. On maritime cliffs you can find kritamos (Crithmum maritimum) or crest marine. However, the most impressive of all beach dwellers is without doubt the Cretan Palm (Phoenix theophrasti). Endemic to Crete, it thrives on sandy substrates in small, humid valleys near the sea.

In the lowlands and in the plain you’ll find oleander and mimosa, which give a colourful touch in spring and early summer. Off the road, look for field flowers, such as poppies, gladioli, and anemones in various colours, crown daisies and many more. On the cultivated plains you’ll see orange and lemon trees, pomegranate, fig and carob trees and olive and vine groves.

Further up in the hills, towards Krassi and Mohos, vegetation gets shrubby and rough, with here and there a tree like the almond tree, the Kermes oak and the Phoenicia Juniper. It is here that we find most aromatic herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, dittany and sage that permeate the air with a pungent, aromatic scent in summer.

Dittany – Dhiktamos or Erontas in Greek – is a herb with healing properties known since ancient times. Endemic to Crete, Aphrodite used it to heal Trojan hero Aeneas’ wounds. The most fantastic account of the herb’s power comes from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who claims that the wild goats of Mt. Idha, the kri-kri, when they were struck by poisoned arrows, ate dhiktamos that made the arrows leave their bodies and cured the wounds. In monasteries during the Middle-Ages, the famous liqueur of the Benedictines contained dhiktamo and even today vermouth is flavoured with this aromatic plant.

Thyme is a small, densely branched aromatic shrub with dark pink flowers from June to August; it is a main attraction for bees, that make from thyme one of Crete’s most treasured products: honey.

Still higher up in the mountains it gets rocky and bare, with trees like cypress, pine and oak trees scattered around on various altitudes. These are all there is left today from the once widespread and dense forests. Only exception is the ancient holm-oak forest over Krassi, on the northern slopes of Mt. Selena. In the woodland’s glades you may find the cyclamen – endemic to Crete and often called the Cretan Snow Bread – gentians, violets and crocuses in spring.

Orchids

With around 67 different species, many of which are endemic to Crete, orchids are strongly represented on the island and attract amateur and professional botanists alike. The Cretans call them ‘melissákia’, little bees: the orchid pretends to be a bee, reminiscent of these little female insects in colour and shape, size and touch, even in smell, thus attracting males to mate with it. This way, its pollen is spread and in making contact via the bees with another orchid’s pistil (the female organ), fertilization is assured!

Their colour spectrum is unsurpassed, as are their colour combinations, ranging from shades of pale violet to deep blue, soft pink to cream, yellow to a brown so dark, that it looks like black. Also their sizes vary enormously, from microscopic to gigantic.

Near Malia’s archaeological site, on a surface area of only a few square kilometres, more than 40 species of orchids have been discerned, of which some are rare endemics to Crete and others exist only in Malia and in the Samaria Gorge (Orchis sancta and Orchis palustra).

The name orchid derives from the ancient Greek word ‘orchis’, which means testicle: the underground bulbs of the flower closely resemble the shape of testicles. Blooming period is from January to May.