Geophytes in Crete

Dennis Kramb
Sat, 23 Apr 2005 10:21:54 PDT
I love Crete!  Having only visited there once in 1992, I dream of retiring 
there some day.  So I read with great joy about your wildflower 
explorations.  I had an extremely similar experience on Peleponnesus 
(mainland Greece, peninsula) in 1998 with my friend from Athens.  We hiked 
everywhere photographing plants and wildflowers.  His passion was aroids, 
mine was irids.  We found both in plenty!

>         Iridaceae: Crete has one Crocus, C. sieberi; the populations I 
> saw were blooming in scree just below melting snowfields, and there were 
> leaves in other places where the snow had recently gone. The flowers were 
> white with yellow throats, sometimes with a little purple on the reverse. 
> Gladiolus italicus was robust and colorful, often growing in great masses 
> in cultivated fields, where its many bulblets are distributed by the 
> plow; it's hardy here in Oregon. Gynandriris sisyrinchium, a little 
> "iris" that produces a succession of ephemeral bright lavender flowers, 
> grew as individuals or well-scattered colonies on fairly flat ground at 
> mid elevations. Hermodactylus tuberosus was flowering on rocky uplands 
> among grasses and dwarf shrubs, here mostly a gray color form. There were 
> two Iris species: I. cretensis, a close relative of I. unguicularis and 
> hardy in my garden, favored banks of clay and rock and reminded me of 
> Pacific Coast irises with its dense foliage clumps and brilliant purple 
> and gold flowers; and the tall bearded I. albicans, probably an ancient 
> introduction, lifted its white flowers in old habitation sites. The form 
> of Romulea bulbocodium that grows here is white, flowering right on the 
> ground in vernally wet rocky clay, the kind of site where you'd find 
> Olsynium douglasii or deciduous Lewisia species in the American West, and 
> Calandrinia in the Andes.

I, too, grow Iris cretensis and it is such a little trooper.  An iris 
expert in Virginia told me that he could grow it outdoors in Zone 7.  He 
encouraged me to try it outdoors here in Zone 6 (almost Zone 5) and for 3 
years now I have had total success.  On two separate occasions they've 
bloomed outdoors between Christmas and New Years.

It's interesting that you compare them to the Pacific Coast irises, because 
I've compared it to the East Coast (Appalachian) species Iris verna.  I'd 
love to try hybridizing the two, but believe it or not I can't keep I. 
verna alive!  It's native range comes very close to Cincinnati, and yet I 
have failed on multiple attempts to grow & bloom it.  It inevitably fizzles 
out & dies.

The best theory I've been able to come up with for why Iris cretensis can 
survive & thrive here in Cincinnati is that Crete must have been much 
colder during the ice ages.  Somehow those cold hardy genes have made it 
through to the modern day.  Other plants form Crete wither & die here... 
like Iris verna, LOL.

I was also excited to hear about Gymnandiris sisyrichium.  I remember 
seeing a photo of that for the first time about two years ago and it 
knocked my socks off!  I've not found anyone else growing it in USA, but 
I'd love to see it in real life some time.  Perhaps reason enough for 
another trip back to Crete!

>the sheep couldn't get at them. Finally, the two or four (depending on 
>your authority) tulips of Crete: endemic T. saxatilis, growing on ledges 
>of rock outcrops; endemic T. cretica, mostly in crevices of a spectacular 
>vertical seaside cliff and in crevices of a black rock that I was told was 
>a form of serpentine, but there were outlying plants growing well in good 
>soil and I suspect the rocky habitat is mostly protection from rodents; T. 
>doerfleri, sometimes regarded as a form of T. orphanidea, in upland 
>meadows; and T. bakeri, which Grey-Wilson and Mathew call a dark color 
>form of T. saxatilis, growing especially in fields in the upland Omalos 
>Plain where sheep and goats had been excluded.

I grow a tulip whose botanical name had completely slipped my mind over the 
years.  I never recorded it in my notebooks or anything, but after reading 
your account I know for certain it is T. orphanidea.  It just finished 
blooming this year, and it such a cute little guy.  I like it better than 
most of my modern hybrid cultivars.

Thanks so much for your post!  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  :-)

Dennis in Cincinnati

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