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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 25 April 2017 by John Richards

More from Evia

Some more Evian orchids

Its now a month since we were on the Greek island of Evia, off the east coast of Attica to the north of Athens. In my first report on April 3rd I wrote chiefly about fritillaries, but we did of course see many other fine plants. Subjects in the garden here are crowding in, anxious for a report, but at this busy and rewarding time of year I would like to get Evia off my chest.

The northern Evian serpentines are not great for orchids, but we found the early-flowering Dactylorhiza romana in its purple form in several places. Mostly it was not quite in flower, but here it is pictured near the monastry close to Dhrimona.

Dactylorhiza romana

Even on the limestones, orchids were thin on the ground. We were certainly too early for many of the larger species which were still at the rosette stage. However, near to the north-western coast we did find a small population of the Naked Man Orchid, Orchis italica.

Pyrgos, Evia

Quite well endowed (!).

On the way north through Evia we stopped for lunch at a rather scrubby bit of limestone by the road and I was delighted to find a population of the Mirror Orchid, Ophrys speculum. I think this is a local plant in Greece and I don't think I have ever seen it there before although it is common on Mallorca and elsewhere in the western Med.

Ophrys speculum

For my final two orchids I am retreating to Attica. On Cape Marathon, looking in vain for Fritillaria obliqua, we found a great deal of the two Neotineas.N. tridentata and N. lactea. Here is the latter, sometimes known as the Milky Orchid.

Neotinea lactea

In the next photo, Neotinea tridentata is sharing the stage with a rather unusual white form of the ubiquitous Anemone pavonina.

Neotinea tridentata and Anemone pavonina


Anemones were indeed the plants of the trip. It is a truism to say that anemones are one the glories of the Greek spring, but this has rarely been my experience in, for instance, western Attica or the Peloponnese, or indeed Crete. However in northern Evia, and also eastern Attica, Anemone pavonina was abundant everywhere and extremely beautiful. They were most striking perhaps when they occurred in a range of hues together, including pinks and reds as well as the ubiquitous lilac.

Anemone pavonina population

This group was on the roadside just by Ilia, the viillage where we stayed.

Amemone pavonina

Of course the reds, here with Ornithogalum sibthorpii, are the most striking.

Anemone pavonina red

It is tempting to just open more and more photos of those glorious anemones! Instead, here is the more demure Anemone blanda which we found very common in northern Evia, mostly on the limestones, but both in quite deep woodland and out in the open. It did stray onto modified serpentine in some cases.

Anemone blanda

Before we leave the Ranunculaceae, it is worth mentioning that Helleborus cyclophyllus was also widespread on the limestone and less severe serpentines in northern Evia at surprisingly low altitudes, certainly growing as low as 300m or so. In most of Greece it is much more evidentally a mountain plant.

Helleborus cyclophyllus

Some more bulbs

As I intimated in the earlier account, frits were by no means the only bulbs we found in northern Evia. Iris tuberosa, the 'Widow Iris' was surprisingly common, mostly on limestone. Most plants were of the form with yellow standards, but I loved this smoky-coloured variant. Incidentally, I believe that DNA has shown not only that the widow iris is indeed an iris and not to be separated in Hermodactylus, but should in fact be classified together with the reticulatas of which it would become the westernmost species.

Iris tuberosa

In just one area of northern Evia, a side road than ran through the viillage of Tsapournia, we found a large population of the winter iris, Iris unguicularis, looking, as most Greek populations do, much like the extreme form which is often known as Iris cretensis. Here, rather surprisingly, it was mostly a woodland plant.

Iris unguicularis

Evia is a great island for the genus gagea and I showed several species in the earlier account. One of the finest was Gagea peduncularis, with its hairy stems, common on the limestone. Here it is growing with Romulea linaresii.

Gagea peduncularis and Romulea linaresii

Time I think for a few herbs. I need hardly say that I was delighted to find some white primroses, Primula vulgaris, attributable to ssp. sibthorpii, closely to the lovely Dhrimona waterfalls. Here first are the waterfalls.

Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii

Viola chelmea was another unexpected find here, far from its Peloponnesian haunts.

Viola chelmea

A few serpentine specials

As I have noted, there is a good deal of the rather toxic serpentine rock in northern Evia. This rock, which tends to be rich in poisonous heavy metals such as nickel, chromium and antimony often supports a special flora which has become adapted to the metals. Some of the species tend to be local endemics, particularly in parts of the Pindus, and some of these, particularly those in the Brassicaceae, hyperaccumulate some of the metals, especially nickel, causing the plants themselves to be toxic to herbivores. The genus Alyssum in particular contains a number of these serpentine endemics, and we found a nice example on very toxic verges north of Papadhes, Alyssum chalcidicum, named for the principle town of the island.

Alyssum chalcidicum

Nearby grew one of the many annual stocks that are found in Greece. This one, Malcomia macrocalyx, is also confined to the serpentine on northern Evia and two of the Sporadhes islands and has unusually large flowers, making a fine show.

Malcomia macrocalyx

A third serpentine special was, rather unexpectedly, a mullein, Verbascum euboicum, named for the island Evia where it is endemic. We found it on serpentine roadsides near the Dhrimona monastry, together with Astragalus monspessulanus. Not yet in flower, it has very handsome silver rosettes.

Verbascum euboicum

A farewell at Sounio.

As previously related, we spent our last afternoon at Sounion, the southern tip of the Attican mainland, a spectacular location at the best of times, and after a wet cool spring, stunningly floriferous. The giant fennel, Ferula communis, is always a fine sight, but it suited this landscape to perfection.

Ferula communis and Sounion

The yellow shrub is Medicago arborea by the way. Here the Ferula is growing with a rather local and showy perennial stock, Matthiola longipetala.

Matthiola longipetala and Ferula communis

Cistus salvifolius was particularly showy on this headland.

Cistus salvifolius

And finally, the plant which sums up the exuberance of the annual flora in a good Greek spring (and this was a very good one) the delightful Silene colorata.

Silene colorata
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