Greece’s geographical location in the Mediterranean limits the landscape to species that are drought tolerant. Santorini receives most of its precipitation in the winter leaving the summer months dry. Other than plant life having to undergo months without precipitation, they also endure the unforgiving caldera of Santorini. Needless to say, plant survival on Santorini is no easy task.
My first impression of Santorini was how bare the island was and how it lacked plant diversity. After spending more time on Thera, Santorini and paying closer attention to the different species on the island I can humbly say my first impression had no roots grasping the historical, cultural, and present day context of Santorini’s diverse plant life.
When our class approached Thera, Santorini the island’s landscape appeared barren. There weren’t any trees and the vegetation that did cover the land looked like shriveled up brown shrubs nearing the end of their life. Santorini’s precipitation occurs during the winter months which leaves the summer months hot and dry. Factoring in the arid climate and the steepness and heights of the caldera rim, a sense of isolation was created making it difficult to imagine how any plant life could survive with such severity. Fig. 1. Depiction of the vastness of bare landscapes.
The latest eruption of Santorini is also known as the Thera eruption and took place during the Late Bronze Age. The Thera eruption destroyed all life and settlements on what was once a single, circular shaped island. Today, most of the decorative flowers and trees are planted, rather than naturally grown. Fig. 2. Decorative flowers commonly fill the perimeters of streets in neighborhoods with part of their limbs exceeding the limits of the fences they’re planted behind.
Common trees planted on Santorini are Fig, Olive, Oleander, Eucalyptus, and Lemon, as well as a few species of pine trees. Given such arid environments with little water only species that are drought tolerant, such as the ones listed above, can survive and flourish in such conditions. Fig. 3. A fig tree successfully reproducing. Hopefully the figs will be ready to eat soon! (1)
Fig. 4. A lemon tree growing in the courtyard of Wisteria Apartments. This tree requires little water to successfully grow and reproduce.
In many Greek dishes you can count on olives being part of the recipe. Their popularity and common usage is fueled by the abundant amount of olive trees found throughout Greece. In Greek culture the olive is the most praised and influential tree. It represents fertility, peace, wisdom, prosperity, and victory. First traces of the olive tree are thought to have been found in Syria and made its way over to Crete by Phoenician merchants. Cultivation of wild olives first began in Crete. Trading of olives and olive oil soon became widespread throughout Greece. Fig. 5. The leaves of an olive tree that have been used to crown gods, kings, and athletes. (2)
Fig. 6. Athena’s tree at the Acropolis. As Greek mythology has it, Zeus challenged Athena and Poseidon over the land of what is now called Athens. Athena sprouted the olive tree out of the spring that Poseidon struck with his trident. The riches of the olive tree brought victory to Athena, and the tree has since remained highly valued in Greek culture.
Over thousands of years the olive tree has been used to crown victors, construct houses and boats, provided oils for fuel and healing, used for a variety of food dishes, and depicted in art. Fig. 7. These mouthwatering salty olives go hand-in-hand with feta cheese in a Greek salad.
Fig. 8. Pieces of olive wood are hand-painted and used for wall decorations.
Fig. 9. Grinding bowls and crosses carved out of olive wood.
Fig. 10. Vineyards looking up upon Fira. Santorini is known for its production of wine. Approximately 80% total of all the islands in Santorini are occupied by vineyards along pumice terraces. (3)
The flora on Santorini and throughout Greece has been influential for Greek culture. Art, foods, celebrations, and everyday essentials can be intertwined to both native and nonnative plant species. Having a better grasp of the roots that reside in Santorini, I now realize that the once barren landscape I thought it to be is actually a rich and diversified landscape capable of surviving in the harsh arid and windy conditions.
1) “Biomi.org.” Nature of Santorini, Greece – Biomi.org, www.biomi.org/2006/09/28/santorini- nature/vegetation.
2) “The History of The Olive Tree .” ABEA, http://www.abea.gr/en/history-of-olive-in-crete/.
3) Beil, B., Contributions to the flora of the Aegean islands of Santorini and Anafi (Kiklades, Greece) Willdenowia 35, p. 87-96.