Stephen RyanFlowers on Crete

The reason you haven’t heard from me for a while is that I’ve been travelling around the island of Crete for four weeks! (Well someone has to do it!) and what a fabulous place it was to visit.
The scenery was breath taking (particularly at the top of the tallest Mountain on the island, Mt. Psiloritis at 2456m), the people were friendly, the food delicious and the plant life to die for.

Cyclamen creticum

Cyclamen creticum

For those that don’t know Crete, it is Greece’s largest island. It is about 240km long and about 60km at the widest point so you can’t travel great distances which suited us well as we didn’t want to over do it this time. Considering that last trip I drove the hire car 9,403km in four weeks around Chile!

As a mad keen plant lover probably the most exciting thing about a plant safari is to see familiar things growing in their natural habitats. It can give clues to cultivation, suggest plant combinations and of course give photo opportunities that I can then use for talks I give to garden clubs all about my horticultural “daring do”.

Tulipa cretica

Tulipa cretica

Crete has a large number of endemic plants and seeing some of these was a highlight. The first flower I spotted of Cyclamen creticum had me almost speechless which is really saying something, which all of you who have heard me talk will appreciate! To say nothing of seeing Tulipa cretica high up on a mountainside or the fluffy pinkness of Ebenus cretica in large drifts on the rocky hillsides.

Ebenus cretica

Ebenus cretica

But perhaps it was a chance meeting with a plant that many of you are probably familiar with albeit in a different guise that probably set my juices flowing more than anything else I saw on this trip.
My friend Marcus Harvey from Tasmania who owns and runs one of our best mail order bulb nurseries called Hill View Rare Plants has been to Crete many times and gave me lots of useful information on where to go and what to see. In passing he mentioned that on Crete one could find a rare white flowered form of Dracunculus vulgaris the Dragon Arum, although he did neglect to tell me where to look.

Dracunculus vulgaris

Dracunculus vulgaris

We all know the purple-black form with its truly stinking flowers atop its leopard skin stems and everyone admires it in my garden as long as they don’t get too close! However I was completely unprepared for what I saw growing in an olive grove part way up the side of Mt. Psiloritis.

I was driving down a scarily rough dirt road when I saw the back of one in flower that looked odd so we stopped the car to investigate. Not only did I find a white one with a black spadix (the thing that sticks up in the centre off all arums) but white ones with yellow spadices, green ones with both coloured spadices, white ones flushed with mauve, right through to virtually black ones.

Dracunculus vulgaris

Dracunculus vulgaris

Dracunculus vulgaris

Dracunculus vulgaris

We spent ages looking for every combination we could find and although I had earlier in the day climbed to the top of the afore mentioned mountain my exhaustion was soon forgotten! It is amazing how quickly a fatigued horticulturalist can get a second wind when an exciting plant presents itself.

Dracunculus vulgaris

Dracunculus vulgaris

Another interesting aspect of these amazing lilies that I did notice is that the very dark forms all smelt like rotting meat as I would expect but, at least to me, the pale forms smelt more like over ripe fruit which made them far less offensive and therefore even more desirable as garden plants. Oh how I would love to be there when they were in seed with the required permits to bring them home.

At least I do have the photos to prove they exist.

What a successful day it was and we celebrated with a carafe of dodgy local wine at the taverna we stayed at that night.

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

4 thoughts on “Flowers on Crete

  1. Wow Stephen! Those dracunculus vulgaris look indeed vulgar, almost pornographic. But perhaps it’s my dirty mind. Amazing colour and form. Are they just growing wild?

  2. You bet they are growing wild and I went wild!

  3. I don’t think they’d seem nearly so vulgar if they weren’t called Dracunculus. That’s just plain mean.

  4. That is mean. Maybe they could just change their name to The Addams Family?

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