Mount Hymettos, Attica – The eastern slopes

Lecture about the Flora of Hymettos

The Flora of Hymettos – Its Value and its Protection by George Sfikas.

Lecture delivered at the 2-Day Conference: Koropi and Hymettos, Companions Through Time

October 2012.

The word flora describes the sum of plant types found in a defined geographic location. We already know that Greece features one of the richest flora in Europe for its land area with 6,600 species and sub-species of plants of which 1,462 are endemic to Greece meaning the do not grow anywhere else in the world. Those numbers render our country exceptional in term of its flora. The rare wild flowers blooming in spring attract thousands of tourists who come on excursions led by Greek and foreign guides to those areas where they can see and photograph many species together.

It is calculated that in Attica there are about 1,100 species and sub-species of plants or about one sixth of the number for the whole of the country. Fortunately, despite the unbelievable expansion of house building during the last decades, only two local species have disappeared entirely from Attica, whilst all the rest continue to exist. This miracle is due to the fact that Attica has remarkable mountains which act as the last fortresses of nature’s defence and which fortunately have not yet been ‘occupied’ by Athenians.

One such mountain is Hymettos which, located to the east of Athens, is now being encroached by urbanisation from all sides. In fact all through history the mountain has suffered from degradations caused by humans. For example it is said that during the Turkish occupation shepherds would burn the forests on Hymettos to rid them of wolves which were then living in the mountain. Again during the privations of the German occupation wood cutters felled most of the trees to sell or use as firewood. After the war the only forest remaining was in the Ilioupolis area. All the rest of the mountain was treeless and full instead of Greek Thyme which gave the slopes their soft mauve hue when they bloomed in June. During the 1950s there was a concerted effort to reforest parts of the mountain, in particular to the north where it borders on the suburbs of Agia Paraskevi and Papagou and to the west by Byrona, Ilioupolis and Argyroupolis. The result can be seen today by anyone travelling on the Hymettos ring roads

Photo 46 Spring

Photo 47 Winter

Photo 48 Spring above Ilioupolis

As yet a total inventory of the flora of Hymettos has not been made, even though the Department of Biology of the University of Athens is sited right next door. Two catalogues of plants on Hymettos have been published, one, not complete, by me lists 460 species and sub-species and the other by K. Zerlendi in 1965 has 601. It seems quite likely that a total inventory would find over 700, a number which has been found in other mountains of similar height and area in the region of Attica and Boeotia.

What it special about Hymettos, however, is not the total number of plants but the number of rare plants. There are twenty-three plants there which are endemic to Greece and quite a few of those are endemic to Attica. It is worth mentioning that two of the species found on Hymettos are named after the mountain itself where they were first found and described: Helianthemum hymettium and Scabiosa hymettia. Also there are forty-four different species and sub-species of Orchidaceous plants growing on Hymettos, leading orchid experts to cite it as the area with the greatest variety of orchids in relation to its size in the whole of Europe.

In recognition of its singular flora, Hymettos was first included in the European Union (EOK as it was then) CORINE programme and later in Natura 2000 as a natural habitat of Europe needing protection under the code GR 3000006 and entitled: Mount Hymettos, Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani and Vouliagmeni Lake. In other words included is the entire area of the mountain including the Kaisariani forest on its slopes and down to the Vouliagmeni Lake in the south.

In the book entitled the Protected Areas of Natura 2000 in Greece which I edited for the Society for the Protection of the Environment, Mt Hymettos is of course included. Similarly in my book The Botanic Paradises of Greece published in 2001 I included Hymettos since 60 of the total of 130 named sites for rare wild flowers were to found there. Within the botanic wealth of the mountain we have to include also the rich fauna of mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and many more.

Cleary the need to preserve and protect the mountain and prevent any further building developments presently threatening its slopes is urgent and imperative. Already large tracts of the mountain and its botanic heritage have been lost. Consequently what remains must be protected at any sacrifice.

Now some illustrations of the plants of Hymettos, both rare and more common since being common does not mean being less beautiful.

Photo    Caption

  1. The Aleppo Pine, Pinus halepensis, has always grown on Hymettos and is still the most common tree. During the post-war reforestation period there was an attempt to introduce other coniferous trees like Pinus brutia which has prospered although this is not its natural habitat which is the east Aegean and Thrace. Similarly the Greek Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens, the Black pine, Pinus nigra, the Cyprus Cedar Cedrus brevifolia, native to the Troodos Mountains of central Cyprus and the Arizona Cypress, Cupressus arizonica were introduced and are now growing. On the highest mountain ridges the Greek Fir, Αbies cephalonica, was planted about 50 years ago and fifteen specimens have survived, some of which are starting to produce cones which, it is hoped, will lead to a natural regeneration.

Photo 1

  1. The most common shrub on Hymettos is the Kermes Oak, Quercus coccifera which can eventually grow into a tree, It is impervious to heat and drought and its wood is used to make the best charcoal.

Photo 2

  1. Ephedra foeminea, known in Greek as the Hanger, which does indeed scramble over and hang from other plants or rocks.

Photo 3

  1. Arbutus unedo
  2. Juniperus phoenicea
  3. Phlomis fruticosa
  4. Thymbra capitata
  5. Prasium majus
  6. Colutea arborescens
  7. Clematis cirrhosa
  8. Ruta chalepensis
  9. Salvia fruticosa
  10. Εuphorbia characias
  11. Cistus creticus
  12. Cistus salviifolius
  13. Silene colorata
  14. Aubrieta deltoides
  15. Papaver rhoeas
  16. Anemone pavonina
  17. Anemone coronaria
  18. Hypericum empetrifolium
  19. Himantoglossum robertianum
  20. Orchis italica
  21. Orchis pauciflora
  22. Cephalanthera damasonium
  23. Ophrys reinholdii
  24. Orchis quadripunctata
  25. Crocus cancellatus
  26. Crocus laevigatus
  27. Crocus cartwrightianus
  28. Moraea sisyrinchium
  29. Moraea mediterranea
  30. Iris attica
  31. Sternbergia sicula
  32. Centaurea attica pentelica
  33. Onobrychis ebenoides
  34. Οnosma kaheirei
  35. Linum leucanthum
  36. Scabiosa hymettia
  37. Campanula celsii
  38. Valeriana italic
  39. Centranthus ruber
  40. Lonicera etrusca
  41. Lonicera implexa