Flora and Fauna of Psiloritis
Flora: Life has the tendency to spread without interrupted by the mountains, the gorges, the coombs or even the sea. The particularity of the anaglyph and the rocks of Psiloritis have not been an obstacle to the growth of vegetation. However, they formed special edaphic, microclimatic, environmental conditions that allowed various species to create distinct forms and characteristics that reflect the distinctiveness of the mountain. Thus, every land has left its own individual mark on the flora of the area.
The most significant floral wealth is located on the enormous cliffs and the rocks of the gorges. At Gafaris gorge, in the forest of Rouvas, apart from the Kermes Oaks, one can see the enormous cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and the hollies (Phillyerea latifolia), while during spring and early summer many endemic plants present a particular interest, such as the Cretan arum (Arum creticum), the Cretan cyclamen (Cyclamen creticum) and two rare and endemic orchids, the Cretan Kephalanthiro (Cephalanthera cuculata) and the Cretan orchid also known as “sad” (Epipactis cretica) that are worth protecting. At the gnarled gorges of Voriza and Kamares villages, one can admire the beautiful plants that grow in the clefts of vertical rocks, many of which are endemic, such as the rock lettuce (Petromarula pinnata), the Cretan Hypericum jovis and the plant symbol of Crete, dictamus (Origanum dictamus). The gorge of Patsos may be small but it presents a significant botanical interest. Here, one can find from enormous planes (Platanus orientalis) to tiny orchids such as the solenopsis mituta and from Holm oaks (Quercus ilex) to the endemic Cretan bear’s tails (Verbascum Arcturus). However, at the gorges of Malevizi, sush as the Goniana gorge, the visitor can discover the botanical, wealth of the land. The visitor can collect oregano (Origanum onites) and admire the herbs called Staehelina petiolata. Centaurea argentea, the endemic Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica) as well as the autumn cyclamens (Cyclamen graecum). The gorges of Mousai and the one that is demarcated by Avdanites of Damavolos and Agios Silas villages are equally interesting.
Plateaus are also areas with particular vegetation and unique species. However, human activities have limited to a large extend the wealth of the area. Certain plants are spreading impressively, such as the endemic red tulip (Tulipa doerfleri) at the plateau of lous Kampos in Amari village or the endemic plant called Polygonum idaeum that spreads like a carpet across the plateau of Nida as well as crocuses (Crocus oreocreticus). In smaller plateaus around Skinakas village, grows one of the rarest plants in Crete and one of the four endemic species in Greece. This perennial species of Horstrissea is endangered to habitat loss due to the grazing of the animals.
The geological and climate diversity of the mountain is reflected on various types of vegetation.
The arboratious forms of vegetation sometimes form small clusters and sometimes extended forests at glacis, coombs and small plateau.
In the Municipality of Rouvas is located one of the biggest forests in Crete, the forest of Rouvas. The trees that the visitor will come across here are enormous Kermes oaks (Quercus coccifera) with deciduous maples (Acer sempervirens) among them.
Here, is located one of the few biotopes of the unique endemic tree of Crete, the Cretan Zelcova (Zelcova abelicea), which due to its rarity is often referred as the “Unrecognizable tree”. A smaller but equally impressive Kermes oaks forest is located at Vromonero place at Krousonas village. At the southern banks of the mountain there are sparse forests with impressive cypresses and rough pines (Pinus brutia), while the deciduous acorns (Quercus pubescens) are present across the mountains area either individually or in small or big clusters, such as the ones near Margarites and Vroulidia village in Anogia. The Common Hawthorns (Crateagus monogyna) and the wild pear trees (Pyrus spinosa) are especially impressive when they come to fruition, breaking the monotony of the mountain genista. The forest of Mylopotamos and the Kermes oak forest at Kalivos are remarkable.
In relation to the forests, the undermined genista (low brushes) have clearly larger biodiversity.
During spring and summer, the low glacis of Psiloritis are full of colors and aromas. Spiny brooms (Calicotome villosa), sage (Salvia fruticose), crow-berry-leaved trees (Hypericum empetrifolium), burnets (Sacropoterium spinosum), tree spurges (Euphorbia dendroides) use every means to survive and multiply. They use prickles for the protection from animals, blooms and the change of foliage for dehydration. They also emit strong aromas for attracting the insects or forcing back the enemy. Among them, there are many geoherbs that pop out of their bulbs or their condyles all year long. Asphodels (Asphodelus aestivus), cyclamens (Cyclamen creticum), autumn daffodils (Sternbergia sicula), tulips (Tulipa saxatilis), dragon lilies (Dracunculus vulgaris) and an impressive variety of orchids (Orchis sp. Ophrys sp.).
The composition of the genista at higher altitudes. Mainly bushes, due to the winds and the grazing of the animals, are shorter, they have a pillow-like form and are especially bristly. Here prevail the Greek spiny spurges (Euphorbia acanthothamnos), the perennial herbs called Astragalus angustifolius, Astracantha cretica, the barberries (Berberis cretica), the flower Acantholimon androsaceum, while bulbed plants such as the Prospero automnale, the Cretan colchicums (Colchicum cretense) and crocuses (Crocus oreocreticus) are protected under their prickles.
The bushes that make makia vegetation are larger than genista and by rule evergreen. Locust trees (Ceratonia siliqua), wild olives (Olea eropaea ssp. Oleaster), mustics (Pistacia lentiscus), junipers (Juniperus phoenicea), kalmias (Laurus nobilis), arbutuses (Arbutus sp.) resist to the dry spell of the Cretan summer having by rule hard coriaceous leaves and deep roots. One can see them everywhere either as individual trees or big inaccessible clusters of bushes, such as those that create the Ericas (Erica manipuliflora) and the arbutuses at the north glacis of Kouloukonas.
The geological wealth of Psiloritis, the intense geomorphology and the variety of its rocks are reflected not only to plants but also to an incredible variety of animals. The higher altitudes, the tens of caves and precipices, the small and the large lowlands and the numerous gorges lead to a boundless variety of biotopes, many times under unique microclimatic conditions. Hundreds of small and big birds find places for nesting, hunting, relaxation after exhaustion from migration or places to hide and mate. One of the few remaining populations of the Cretan wildcat (Felis silvestris creticus), hunts and lives here. It is characterized as the animal “ghost” by the researchers of Crete’s wild life. In the heart of Psiloritis, they have lived for thousands of years and continue to evolve silently (and blindly!) hundreds of tiny animals, beetles, snails, centipedes, isopods …
All the above, in combination with the isolation of the island, consist this mountain area, which is one of the most important “hot spots” of high biodiversity and endemicity in Greece and have led the last five years in its integration with the NATURA network.
Psiloritis is the first from the mountainous areas that the visitor of the island will have the opportunity to see the great “kokkala” and most spectacular raptors in Europe. The Cretan population of this bird is probably the last viable population across the Balkans, after a case record of extinction at the rest of Greece. Indeed, until the early years of the millennium, the lammergeyer was commonly seen not only in all the mountains of the landlocked Greece and Crete but also in certain bigger islands such as Rhodes. During the 1980’s, the Greek population could count at least 35 couples, 12 of which were in Crete and the rest were spread around the mountainous areas of the main land, Olympos mountain and Tymfi. Within the past 15 years however, the use of poisons in the countryside, in addition with several other reasons that are related to the “development” of the mountainous villages, have led the bird to extinction from the landlocked Greece, while it seems that the last shelter in Crete, had a decrease in its population (more than 70%).
Today, there are a few birds of this species that can be located at the glacis of Psiloritis and the rest of the large Cretan mountainous areas. Without the special measures of protection that have been taken the past few years, the bird would have been extinct a long time ago from the island.
If, however, the lammergeyer impresses with its “elusiveness”, the carrion buzzards (Gyps fulvus) of Psiloritis leave the visitor of the mountains speechless with their enormous “massive” thrust. It is not rare to see fifty or a hundred enormous shadow covering the area! The carrion buzzards in contrast with the “asceticism” of the lammergeyers are birds that create large colonies and nest in abrupt rock roofs and “lofts” that are always against the winds that they use in order to ascend in higher altitudes and look for dead animal bodies. They are fed exclusively with dead animals that have been dead for several days, due to their weak neb, while the leftovers (bones and hard pieces of skin) are eaten by the lammergeyers. Most of the nests at Idi Mountain (Psiloritis) are located at the southern glacis in abrupt and high rocks with a view to Amari and Pano Riza villages, using the north smooth glacis of Mylopotamos for food hunting.
Apart from the big scavengers, another population of raptors completes the ornithological peregrination of Psiloritis. War eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) that hunt cushats at the glacis, lanerrets (Falco peregrinus), Bonelli’s eagles (Hieraaetus fasciatus), haggards (Buteo buteo) and common kestrels (Falco tinunculus), all can be seen by crossing the mountain.
The fauna of the rest of the invertebrates presents a remarkable interest. In the area we are likely to come across the three types of the Cretan ampihibians, the green toad (Bufo viridis), the Cretan tree frog (Hyla arborea cretensis) and the Cretan water frog (Rana cretensis), all the types of the Cretan reptiles (snippets, lizards and the island’s four types of snakes).
A unique and sad absence from Idi Mountain is the Cretan goat (kri-kri) (Copra aegagrus cretica). The last of this unique animal, the symbol of independence and pride of the Cretans for centuries, has been eliminated from the mountain due to the prevalence of gun-runners during the 20’s and the 30’s of the previous century. Today, the only wild populations of this species survive only in abrupt areas of west Crete, at the mountain called “Lefka oroi” (White Mountains).
Also, many caves and precipices of the host large colonies of strictly protected cheiropteras (bats), in the caves of Erfoi village of the lowland Mylopotamos, hosts several hundreds of the species of “The greatest horseshoe bat” (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), the cave of Kamilaris at Tylisos village (with at least four types in large populations), at “Chonos” of Sarchos at Krousonas village (five types), the cave of Kamares and many others.
Among the invertabrates, snails, isopods and several families of ground living beetles present endemic forms that spread exclusively on the mountainous area of Idi Mountain. For example, from the area of Mylopotamos are known at least 21 different types of snails, 17 of which are exclusively animals’ endemic to Crete. The “Gymnosaliagkas” (naked snail) (Deroceras minoicum) lives only in a fountain of the Nida plateau (!), while the blind beetle (Duvalius mixanigi) and the millipede (Serradium sbordoni) are known to live only in certain caves and precipices of the plateau.
Recent studies on the “hot” spots of biodiversity based on invertebrate fauna of south Greece, found that Mylopotamos and the wider mountainous area of Psiloritis is the second most important spot of this kind (with Taigetos first) across south Greece.
Texts: Apostolois Trichas, Manolis Avramakis
The present literature was co-funded by the EU (European Argicultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF-Guidance)) and the Ministry of Rural Development and Food
AKOMM – Psiloritis Anaptisiaki S.A O.T.A. (LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT) Anogia, 74051, Rethymnon, Tel: 0030 2834031402, Fax: 00302834031058
http:www.psiloritis.net.gr, e-mail: [email protected]
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