Autumn Flora of the Peloponnese

8-15 November 2017
Greece, southern Peloponnese


Main Aims and Objectives of Bursary Recipient

  1. To continue development of plant knowledge and identification skills of Mediterranean plant species
  2. To observe growing conditions of certain bulbous species, especially Cyclamen hederifolium, to aid understanding of how to cultivate these species more successfully, including replicating their natural habitat ex situ
  3. To share knowledge with work colleagues and the wider world of horticulture

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the MPG Bursary Committee for granting me the funding which enabled me to go on this trip; without this generous assistance my involvement would not have been possible. I am extremely grateful.

Another big thank you goes to everyone involved in organising and leading the trip, from MPG people to our driver Yiorgos; it wouldn’t have been as enjoyable without their hospitality, generosity and humour.

A final message of thanks goes to the other trip participants, for being wonderful, joyous company and putting up with an over-enthusiastic youngster for a whole week. Some people were as unforgettable as the plants, you made my first time in Greece one I will never forget.


Journal

Wednesday 8th November
Weather: Rain, 16 ℃

We landed in Athens in the evening and were greeted by our friendly coach driver Yiorgos. Once on the coach it didn’t feel like Greece, darkness and rain followed us on the two-hour drive south to Nafplio in the Peloponnese. Most of the journey was on the motorway, it felt like we were still near London on the M25. There was a brief stop to look down over the Corinth Canal – even at night it was still impressive with the 86-metre-high sides lit up, stretching as far as the eye could see.

A late dinner was waiting in Hotel Agamemnon, the wine was welcomed as much as the food… Heather Martin greeted everyone and explained the itinerary for the following day: a free morning for people to spend as they wished, with the afternoon spent travelling further south to Sparta. I met my roommate for the trip, Ilona, and fell asleep instantly – it had been a long day.


Thursday 9th November
Weather: Sunny, 20 ℃

I woke bright and early and was dazzled by my first ever views of Greece (in daylight); the sun was already shining and the sea was the stereotypical Mediterranean blue. After a hearty breakfast, including traditional Greek spinach and cheese pies, aka spanakopita, I set off to explore the old town of Nafplio, once the capital of Greece. It was one of the most memorable beginnings to any trip abroad, having time to relax after travelling and soaking up the surroundings.

Wandering around the labyrinth-like narrow alleyways, I marvelled at the architecture, vivid pink Bougainvillea adorning balconies, olive trees in every back garden, pots of basil outside front doors… it was heavenly.

I stumbled across Acronafplia, the castle, rising at the top of the old town – once the whole city existed within these walls. Parts of the castle were built in the Bronze Age, there are still remnants of these old walls in the western part of the castle, which is slowly being restored. Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) were growing en masse, dripping with their edible fruits.

My next stop was Palamidi, the fortress which “floats above the city”, on a steep hill 216 metres high. It was built by the Venetians between 1711 and 1714 (an extraordinarily short amount of time), the ascent to the top definitely worked off breakfast. There are around 900 steps to climb, with each step the views of Nafplio and the Argolic Gulf became more incredible. I spotted my first cyclamen of the trip clinging to the rocks, a lone C. hederifolium.

I spent a good hour exploring the well preserved ruins of Palamidi with its evocative walls and buildings. I even sat in the freedom fighter Kolokotronis’ prison cell. It was blissful sitting at the top of the battlements and contemplating the surroundings; gorgeous views of Arvanitia beach with Nafplio as small as a toy town, the mountains of Arcadia framing the horizon, looming out of the hazy cloud like a mythical beast. The cerulean waters were reflected in the clear skies above, I could have been in a fairytale.

Before assembling at the coach I mooched around the cafes and shops, sampling the local Greek cuisine: double espresso coffee, followed by pistachio and honey and chocolate ice cream, dried figs and more spanakopita. We left romantic Nafplio behind us and journeyed south to Astros then over the Parnon via Agios Petros to Sparta – once one of the most powerful cities in the ancient world, with a couple of plant stops on the way.

We stopped in areas where John and/or Melvyn had been previously, hence there was plenty to see. Our first stop was a proposed half hour of exploration which turned into an hour…. There was too much to see. We scrambled up scree at the side of the road, at first it was hard spotting species amongst the rocks but once our eyes adjusted we saw plants everywhere

Prospero (syn. Scilla) autumnale was en masse, delicate flowers pushing out of the stones – it was hard not to tread on them. Our first crocus was Crocus boryi, flowers broad and pure white with a deep yellow throat. These camouflaged well against the beige-coloured rocks.

A cause for excitement was a suspected Crocus laevigatus, or it could have been an extreme form of C. boryi – these species are similar to each other, usually C. laevigatus has smaller flowers than C. boryi, with the exterior outer segments having one to three purple stripes. We all crowded around John for the verdict. At first he was unsure but, on examination with a hand lens, he declared it to be C. laevigatus.

Cyclamen graecum was everywhere, the broad, heart-shaped leaves were as attractive as the pink flowers. This species is normally found in terra rossa in full sun, which this site was. A few clumps of pink flowering Colchicum cupanii were found, I liked how it formed small posies on the ground. Sea squill, Drimia numidica, wasn’t flowering but even so its rosettes of glossy green leaves were still attractive.

Plants noted:

  • Colchicum cupanii
  • Crocus boryi
  • Crocus laevigatus
  • Cyclamen graecum
  • Drimia numidica
  • Prospero autumnale 

We drove onwards, leaving the sea behind and weaving through the mountains. The vegetation changed dramatically with junipers and oaks becoming the backdrop – it’s hard appreciating the vegetation when the flowering plants are the main focus. We stopped briefly where we saw my favourite crocus of the entire trip – Crocus biflorus ssp. melantherus. This had eye-catching white flowers with distinctive dark striping on the outside tepals (fused sepals and petals), the anthers are black before dehiscing (releasing their pollen).

It was surprising to find Quercus coccifera with acorns, I had seen this before in Portugal but only in spring – here it truly looked like an oak. For me seeing the same plant at a different time of year is like seeing it anew.