As well as trees and plants, which can also be found in other regions of Greece and the wider Mediterranean area, there are a large number of plants endemic to the island. This can be explained by the geological isolation of the island, which has facilitated the development of local species since ancient times.
Out of an estimated number of 2000 species of plants 160 are endemic and grow exclusively on the island. Unfortunately, compared to periods of the past, the vegetation of today has been diminished to a large degree. Mountains which previously had lush vegetation such as Psiloritis and Ida (which was planted with trees) are today almost bare mainly due to uncontrolled pasturing of sheep and goats, and fire.
At the same time the few areas of flat land had to be used for agricultural farming, and in some coastal areas green-houses were built with the result that the flora and fauna has been restricted to a large degree and many rare species of plants today are in danger of extinction.
Since the development of the flora depends on the temperature and the morphology of the terrain, its classification is based on altitude, which influences the above-mentioned factors.
Thus in the coastal area humidity and the salty air of the sea favour plants such as the sea lily (Pancratium maritimum) the tamarisks (Tamarix cretica) and the famous Cretan palm (Phoenix theofrastii).
In the area of flat land, which goes up to a height of 300 m, the Mediterranean macchie can be found including lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), holm-oak (Quercus coccifera), oleander (Nerium oleander), Vitex agnus-castus, camomile (Chamomilla recutita), mint (Mentha spicata), myrtle (Myrtus communis), heather (Erica), Daucus carota, wild celery (Smyrnium), hollyhock (Alcea pallida cretica), the common poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Cistus incanus-creticus, as well as Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica).
The semi-mountainous area goes up to a height of 800m approximately and includes shrubbery such as the holm-oak (Quercus coccifera), the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), thyme (Thymus capitatus), the Arbutus unedo, the Phlomis cretica, the maple-tree (Acer sempervirens), the bryony (Bryonia cretica), the Spartium junceum, the Styrax officinalis, and many others. Wild flowers include Cretan cyclamen (Cyclamen creticum), iris (Iris cretica), Dracungulus, gladiola (Gladiolus italicus), tulips (Tulipa orphanidea), hyacinth (Muscari commosum), various species of Cretan orchids as well as locust-trees (Ceratonia siliqua) and oak-trees (Quercus).
The area between 800 and 1800 m of height is known as the mountainous area. Here we meet holm-oaks (Quercus coccifera), the Cretan maple-tree (Acer sempervirens) as well as shrubs and wildflowers such as yellow violets (Erysimum creticum), tulips (Tulipa cretica), wild Cretan wormwood (Achillia cretica), wild violets (Viola cretica), crocuses (Crocus oreocreticus) and many others.
Of particular interest is the flora of the gorges, which reveals a splendid array of wild flowers and shrubs, many of which are rare species and endemic to the island. They have been preserved from human intervention, because access to this area is difficult and therefore the environment has maintained its original wildness.
Here you can see the entire spectrum of species referred to in the above-mentioned areas, since the gorges start in the mountainous and semi-mountainous area and end up at sea level. Furthermore, if you are lucky, you might also come across the famous Cretan Diktamo (Origanum dictamus).
In marshy areas, which develop in the coastal zones where rivers empty into the sea as for example at the Lagoon of Preveli, you can find the Cretan palm-tree (Phoenix theophrastii), which is also endemic to Crete.
A wild goat chewing dittany in order to heal the wound inflicted by an arrow (O.Dapper).
The miraculous qualities of dittany have been known since ancient times.
The sea-lily (Pancratium maritimum)