Not just the country of Apollo’s light and Poseidon’s sea, Greece has one of the richest densities of flora in all of Europe. Greece is often defined as the botanical paradise of Europe, with approximately 6,000 different species of flora covering a large expanse of mountains and hundreds of miles of coastline. About 15% of these species are found in the gorges and crevasses of the mountains where the footprint of man is minimal.
We are nearing the end of winter and for the most part, held inside without having the outside natural beauty to perk up our attitude and senses. Seasons come and seasons go, but we embrace each for what they offer and look forward to the next with hopes of change.
In Greece, Spring comes roaring in and everything comes to life after a long winter’s sleep. It is home to a wide variety of beautiful wildflowers popping up all over the hillsides and laying a bright carpet of color all around. The diverse landscape found in Greece from mountainous lush tree-topped hills to dry arid, rocky and barren ground provides environments that foster a variety of wildflowers.
~ The Variety of Flowers ~
Some of the first to bloom in the dry atmosphere are the crocuses, (Crocus Flavus-or simply known as yellow Crocus) hyacinth and daffodils who sneak up out of the ground and bloom for a few weeks before the heat of the summer begins to settle in. The hillside and barren areas now become covered in shades of yellow, blue, violet, red and white. Red poppies are prolific in the olive groves, emerging year after year with stunning red hues. A common Spring countryside scene is therefore sage green of the olive groves combined with the richest red of the poppies. Each year during Greek Easter, Greeks flock to their country homes to feast and celebrate and the flowers are a welcome and integral part of this tradition.
One of the better-known flowers of Greece, the orchid, thrives in this type of terrain and comes in variations of colors and makes for the perfect gift. They favor grassy places, woodlands and meadows. The burnt-tip orchid is native to mountains and grows in 2,400 meters elevation.
Along with their beauty, the spring flowers bring their scents and permeate the air. The wisteria offers a delightful scent, and the intoxicating scent of the orange blossom overwhelms you as you travel especially on the Peloponnese. Even strolling in Athens downtown you will be overwhelmed by the scent of neroli or bitter orange blossom.
The majority of Greece is given to woodland and forest laden mountains. Under the shade of the trees, the grounds are perfect for violets, tulips, peonies, anemones and primrose.
Ancient Greek Myths & the Flowers…
The native flowers of Greece had a great influence on ancient Greek Mythology and architecture. The lovely blue- violet-colored flower, the hyacinth, is said to have formed from the blood of a young lad killed by a discus. His first three drops of blood fallen from his head became the stigmata of the crocus flower.
The daffodil, it is said that Hades is carpeted with these bright, trumpet-shaped flowers. This flower comes in shades of yellow and white and is actually the ancient Greek symbol of death.
The famously handsome young man Adonis, who was loved by Aphrodite, was killed by a wild boar. His blood is said to have created the red Anemone flower after it dripped to the ground.
Crocus was a young boy much loved by Hermes. When he died accidentally, Hermes is said to have transformed him into the Saffron flower to keep him around eternally.
The Aster is a star-shaped wildflower that is told in myth to have sprung from the ground from the tears of Astraea, the virgin goddess of justice. Zeus flooded the earth in order to rid it of its warring men. Astraea was so upset that she wished only to be a star. Her wish came true but when the floodwaters receded, and she saw the destruction she wept and there up grew the Aster.
Another great story is when Venus, the goddess of love, misplaces her mirror that allows anyone who glances in it to see nothing but beauty. A young shepherd found it and loved it so much, he refused to return it. Venus orders her son to retrieve it and by accident knocks the boy’s hand and the mirror shatters in a thousand pieces. Where each piece fell the Campanule (Venus’ looking glass) sprung from the earth.
Zeus had an affair with a mere mortal and fathered a son, Hercules. He wanted the best for the child and knew that the milk of his wife, Hera, would provide the best for a god. He drugged Hera and placed the baby on her once she sleeps. She awakes and tosses the baby off her and her milk streams all over the heavens and forms the Milky Way. The few drops hitting the earth sprang up as Lily flowers.
Here is a story you may not know about the most famous flower of all perhaps, the Rose. The Rose’s origin came from when Chloris found a breathtakingly beautiful nymph laying dead in the field. Chloris being so saddened summoned her friends to attest to her making the nymph into a flower to keep her beauty living on. Thus, was made, the rose having been given beauty from Aphrodite, nectar from Dionysus for a sweet smell, and Zephyrus, god of the west wind, blew the clouds away allowing Apollo, god of the sun, to allow the sun to shine for the rose to grow.
The tales of the Greek flora are numerous and are greatly intertwined in history and myth. The Corinthian columns have been said to have gained their design from the inspirational look of Bear Breeches.
No matter how these lovely flowers and fauna have come to be, Greece in the Spring is a showcase for all to see.
You don’t have to travel outside of Athens to enjoy the colors and scents and scenic spring flowers. Settled on over 7 hectares of land, the National Gardens in Athens showcase flowerbeds with the best of the native flowers and varieties including some imported. The gardens, then the Royal Gardens, were developed in the 1830’s by Queen Amalia on the grounds of the now Parliament building which was her palace.
Surrounding the Acropolis is an expansive walk, redone for the 2004 Olympics, which comes alive in the spring with wildflowers lining its paths. Even on the Acropolis site itself, you will spot small flowers popping between the ancient rocks, yellow, purple and red abound offering ideal places to picnic.
At the base of the Acropolis is the Agora, the ancient marketplace which is full of shrubs, trees and flowers known to have existed in ancient times.
Each May 1st Greeks pay tribute to the earth’s floral bounty by gathering wildflowers and weaving them into wreaths to decorate the house. Spring, specifically April and May, is a perfect time to explore the host of rare species of plants and wildflowers found on the diverse countryside of Greece.
Let the sunshine and aroma of Spring come through!