Notes on the Flora and Vegetation of Rhodes 

 

Rhodes, an island that combines Aegean and East Mediterranean elements, comprises an interesting flora and important vegetation and retains representative habitats, in spite of intense human pressures and extensive tourism development.

The flora of the island has been studied quite extensively and a recent complete study of its flora and phytogeography (Carlström, 1987) has compiled all collections, since the ends of the 18th century.

The particular characteristics of the plant life have been determined by:

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the climate: arid Mediterranean but with local variations due to the complicated topography

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the geology: main mountains of Mesozoic limestone and large areas of fluvial conglomerates, comprising also serpentinized ultramafic outcrops

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the palaiogeography: it belongs to the S. Aegean Arc which was separated from the Cyclades 10 and 5 Ma ago, and thus connected to Karpathos and Kriti; it is one of the East Aegean Islands, retaining its connection to the adjacent Anatolia until the Pleistocene

 The flora includes around 1130 species (1160 taxa) and has a relatively high degree of endemism considering its size and closeness to the mainland: 10 endemic species (12 taxa). There are 21 taxa endemic to the East Aegean Islands, 12 taxa endemic to the East Aegean Islands and SW Turkey and a total of 186 species that can be considered important (endemic, rare, threatened or protected). Notably, there are 79 orchid species, among them the fairly widespread but quite rare giant orchid (Barlia robertiana), the Greek endemics Ophrys ariadnae and Ophrys gottfriediana and the rhodian endemics Ophrys eptapigiensis, O. conrutula, O. halia, O. parvula and Ophrys persefonae.

The chasmophytic flora includes certain noteworthy plants. Centaurea lactucifolia is a splendid relic of the Tertiary endemic to the limestones of Rhodes, quite widespread on Attavyros massif and also found at Profitis Ilias, Lardos, Apollona, Vagia, Lindos. The locals of Siana and Monolithos, where it is abundant, use it as an ornamental and edible plant (the inner parts, as in artichoke). Asyneuma giganteum is a vulnerable chasmophyte with rare, small and local populations found on Rhodes and Karpathos. Its purple giant inflorescence is seen only in May, on the steep rocks of Profitis Ilias and Attavyros. Typical and rare elements of the serpentine flora are Silene salamandra and Anthemis rhodensis (endemic to Rhodes) and Arenaria rhodia (also found in W. Turkey and Cyprus).

The vegetation is characterised by thermo-Mediterranean sclerophyllous shrub (maquis) and conifer forest.

The sclerophyllous and deciduous oak forest, Quercus coccifera and Q. ithaburensis ssp. macrolepis, which reputedly was once abundant in the Aegean, is today represented by remnants, at rocky slopes and streams, sometimes among cultivations. Low maquis with Pistacia lentiscus (lentisc) appear as small thickets at coastal sites or among cultivations or as more extended formations mainly in burned forest.

 forms species rich shrubs at few coastal sites, mainly at Akramytis, and is occasionally a part of the pine forest understorey.

 Rhodes is among the few Aegean islands with extended Pinus brutia (Aegean pine) forest and one of the two (along with Crete) with Cupressus sempervirens (cypress) forest. The pine alone occupies large areas at the northern and central part of Rhodes, from sea level to 600 m. The understorey is rich in shrubs, mainly Pistacia lentiscus and often Quercus coccifera, Arbutus unedo, Olea europaea ssp. oleaster, Rhamnus lycioides ssp. oleoides, Styrax officinalis, Ceratonia siliqua. Large fires (and subsequent grazing at some areas) have reduced the forest cover. On the large burned forest areas between Profitis Ilias and Psinthos and S of Emponas the re-establishing vegetation is characterised by phrygana with Genista acanthoclada, Lithodora hispidula, Cistus salviifolius, Cistus parviflorus and, especially at Dimilia and NE of Psinthos, by thick Arbutus unedo and Arbutus andrachne shrub. Mixed pine and cypress forests occur mainly from 100-450 m and sometimes at higher altitudes. Pure cypress forest extends from 250-800 m but it is predominantly found on calcareous rocky slopes at higher altitudes and typically stems the steep peaks of Profitis Ilias Emponas and Attavyros. The understorey is species poor but it is the only habitat of the rhodian peony (Paeonia clusii ssp. rhodia), named flaskanoura by the locals, and of the endangered at world level Komper's orchid (Comperia comperiana) and the main habitat of the rhodian cyclamen (Cyclamen rhodium) and the rare rhodian fritillary (Fritillaria rhodia).

Phrygana occur throughout the island, mostly in degraded vegetation in burned forest or in grazed areas, usually dominated by Genista acanthoclada, Cistus spp. and Lithodora hispidula, an East Mediterranean species occurring only in the E Aegean and the Cretan area in Europe. Abandoned cultivations are commonly re-vegetated by Salvia fruticosa, Euphorbia acanthothamnos, Sarcopoterium spinosum. The coastal phrygana are characterised by Coridothymus capitatus, Helichrysum conglobatum and Carlina tragacanthifolia, a species endemic to few S Aegean islands and SW Turkey.

An exceptional feature of the vegetation is the woodland of Liquidambar orientalis, a tree endemic to Rhodes and SW Turkey. It is found along streams or at wet planes, chiefly on ultramafic substrates, one of the best riparian populations growing along with Platanus orientalis (oriental plane) at the well known “Butterfly Valley”.

Sand beaches are formed all around Rhodes but the east and northwest coasts are under heavy pressure by tourism development. On the other hand, the sand dune systems of the west and south-west coasts, from Apolakkia bay (17 km) to the area of Gennadi, are, fortunately, situated at more remote parts of the island and are rather overlooked but nevertheless important and threatened. Low topographic dunes and also dome dunes with a variety of ammophillous communities and dense shrub on stabilised sites comprise one of the most extended and well developed systems of the Aegean even though their width has been much reduced due to cultivations. The shrub is mainly dominated by Juniperus phoenicea ssp. macrocarpa (prickly juniper), a species becoming less and less widespread in the Aegean. Some of the noteworthy elements of the sand dune flora are Lycium sweinfurthii, a Mediterranean shrub rather rare and scattered in the Aegean and surprisingly abundant in Apolakkia dunes; Consolida arenaria, a vulnerable species endemic to the dunes of S. Rhodes and threatened by tourism development; Ipomoea imperati, rare in Greece; Hypecoum procumbens ssp. atropunctatum, endemic to the East Aegean and W. Turkey.

 

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