Summer Flowers in Crete

As the days get hotter, Crete looks less and less promising as far as flowers are concerned. However, all through the summer months there is something special to be found, as long as you open your eyes and take a look!

One of the most beautiful of summer flowers in Crete must be the Capparis spinosa – caper to you and me! The little green pickle that sometimes garnishes a salad in a smart restaurant. Capers are the flower buds, not the seed pods of this remarkably complex flower. They can be collected carefully – the plant is not names ‘spinosa’ for nothing. They are then soaked in brine for a day or two and then pickled like onions in spiced vinegar and water. Delicious! But the process needs patience and time.

Capparis spinosa can be found all over the island. It is a straggling bush with very distinct flowers, as can be seen in the photograph. Flowering until September, this plant is well worth looking out for.

Capparis Spinosa
Capparis spinosa © Julia Jones and Flowers of Crete

Plants that flower on Crete throughout the summer months, when other vegetation is in short supply need to be well protected from grazing goats and sheep; so many have developed thorns and spines.

Another such plant is the stately Acanthus spinosus, which flowers from April until the end of July. The acanthus features in much classical and Pre-Raphaelite art in the form of the Ancanthus leaf, which was used as a repeating motif on Greek columns and plinths. The flower spike can grow fairly tall and can be difficult to photograph, so I have chosen to feature a close up, which shows just how complex the individual flowers can be. Note the sharp, elongated bracts around the flowers – enough to deter even the most determined of goats. I have noticed, however, that the young shoots of A. spinosum are much softer and many, having provided a useful snack, fail to reach maturity.

Acanthus Spinosus
Acanthus spinosum © Julia Jones and Flowers of Crete

Having recently visited the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England, I was moved to see many Cretan flowers in pride of place in their collections. It was strange to see Cyclamen creticum (Cretan sowbread) and Paeonii clusii (Peony) in suburban London sunshine.

Many plants that we see every season here in Crete are grown in the UK and elsewhere as border and specimen plants. A. spinosum can grow well in an herbaceous border and it is worth collecting a few ripe seeds to put in your garden on Crete. Seeds are ripe when the pod is dark brown and brittle. It is best to plant straight away and leave nature to do her work. With so many wonderful species on the island, there is little need to buy expensive and invasive imports from garden centres. Indeed, why not try asking for native species such as Pheonix theophrasti – Cretan Palm when you visit the garden centre? That way we might cut down the risks to our endemic species.

Other plants to look out for during the summer are the wild oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary. In Waitrose supermarket back in the UK, nicely packaged ‘wild Cretan mountain herbs’ sell for around 7.00 euros each. Here we can gather them or grow them easily. However, if gathering seeds or herbs (or horta for that matter) only take what you need and leave the rest to multiply for posterity. In the mountains, the dainty Oreganum microphyllum with its tiny pinkish-mauve flowers can be discovered. On Crete it is used to make an herbal tea.

Wild herbs can be steeped in good quality olive oil to make an excellent standby in the kitchen. My favourite combination is oregano, garlic and a little ginger steeped in a litre of olive oil. Great for adding extra flavour in a casserole!

So I hope that you will take the time to appreciate the natural beauty around us here in Crete and will help to play your part in ensuring that we are worthy custodians to pass on this rich inheritance to future generations.

* The article “Summer Flowers in Crete” has been written by Julia Jones. All Rights Reserved – No Unauthorised Copying is Allowed.

Read more: Wild Flowers of Crete by George Sfikas

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