Wild flora and historic sights of Cyprus

February 2024

report by Susie Hauxwell

C. Persicum & sea
Group resting on wall


My attendance on this trip was only made possible thanks to bursaries from the Royal Horticultural Society (President’s Bursary) and Mediterranean Plants and Gardens.  A huge thank you to both the RHS and MPG bursary committees.  In addition, I would like to say thank you to the RHS Rosemoor Garden for partially funding my travel.  I am very grateful for the help and support of these organisations in enabling my trip to Cyprus.

Many thanks to Andrew Mayo for his meticulous planning and superb communication before and during the tour.

My thanks also go to the group that I travelled with, we were 20 in total, many with years of experience in Mediterranean plants; the collective knowledge was really quite humbling.

A special thank you to Yiannis Christofides, whose patience was sometimes stretched while dealing with us while we stopped and marvelled at the magnificent Cypriot flora, when we should have been on the bus travelling to another location! Yiannis’ botanical knowledge is phenomenal, he taught us so many lessons in plant identification and also geology – too much information to remember it all!

Outline of trip

This tour focused on the wild flora of Cyprus, much of which is endemic, in its native habitat.  Due to its southerly position, spring comes early in Cyprus.  As well as observing plants in the natural landscape we also visited archaeological sites around the ancient city of Paphos which are renowned for their rich plant life.  We botanised in a variety of different environments from the sea shore up to  the summit of Mount Olympos witnessing a wide range of flora.  The tour had two bases, the first in Paphos and the second in Latchi or as it is also known Latsi.  The tour was led by Dr Yiannis Christofides who has spent nearly 40 years botanising and researching in Cyprus.  He has written two highly acclaimed books on the flora of Cyprus and has a particular interest in orchids and sub-alpines of the Troodos Mountains.

Cyprus map

Personal objectives

At the time of applying for the bursaries I was a horticulturist working at RHS Garden Rosemoor, North Devon with responsibility for looking after the Mediterranean garden.  As my enthusiasm for Mediterranean plants has grown, I have realised that I know very little about how the plants that I displayed at Rosemoor, and how they grow in their native environment.  On the back of the quest to expand my knowledge of native Mediterranean plants I embarked on a Mediterranean Plants and Garden Society (MPG) trip to the Peloponnese, Greece, in Autumn 2022, this was generously funded by the MPG, the RHS President’s bursary and RHS Rosemoor Garden. The aim of this previous tour was mainly to study autumn flowering geophytes; this trip to Cyprus focuses on the different seasonal range of the flora, namely orchids, the Cypriot endemics and the spring flowering plants.  Experiencing plants in the wild has enhanced my working knowledge of the Mediterranean flora and has enabled me to understand more fully the harsh and unique growing conditions of these plant communities.

Overview of report

A comprehensive plant list is included at the end of the report, which may be useful to others travelling in the area at this time of year as a point of reference.  Where possible I have included up-to-date botanical names and correct identification, however this is not infallible.  The report contains some background to Cyprus, history, geography and climate, and maps.  The main body of the report follows the itinerary.  The photographs are from sources including Andrew Mayo, Sona Harap and my own.

Cyprus map

Cyprus Map
Ref:worldatlas.com, 2024

Cyprus history

Since 1974 Cyprus has been a divided island. The republic of Cyprus is Greek speaking but is not part of Greece, it is an independent EU country. A UN peacekeeping force maintains a buffer zone between northern and southern Cyprus. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus controls the southern part of the island. The self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (‘TRNC’) controls the north but this area is not recognised by the EU and is called ‘occupied territory’.

Cyprus climate

Cyprus Rain Graph
Ref: 2023 Weather-Guide.com
Cyprus Sun Graph
Ref: 2023 Weather-Guide.com

These two graphs demonstrate Cyprus unique climate and that Spring comes early, it follows the weather patterns of the other Mediterranean countries; mild wet Spring’s and Autumn and hot dry summers. Prior to our trip Cyprus had experienced a few weeks of showery weather which undoubtedly aided the proliferation of flora that we encountered during our week. Temperatures were slightly higher than the average around 18 degrees during the day.

Cyprus geography

Cyprus Geography Graph
Ref: Mapsland, 2024

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean sea and is in the eastern end in close proximity to Turkey and the middle East.  There are two main mountain ranges the Troodos massif and the Pentadaktylos range, running along the north coast; Mount Olympos is the tallest mountain at 1952 meters.  There are also salt water lakes the largest of which is in the South providing another environment for flora and fauna.  As well as the number of endemic species and early Spring, the geology of Cyprus gives the island its uniqueness.  There are several quite distinct areas of different rock formations that give rise to a varied and distinct distribution of plants.

Yiannis with map

Cyprus flora

The unique rock formations of Cyprus together with the climate and wide range of growing environments support large collection of plants, 1900 recorded species with 130 endemics. There are several distinct habitats on Cyprus that we encountered on our tour: Beach and sand dune, coastal cliffs, salt lake, sub-alpine, forests, grassland and meadow, maquis, garigue, phrygana and archaeological sites.

16 February

Arrival at Paphos airport and transfer to hotel in Paphos. After settling in we made a short walk to look at the flora growing on the sidewalks. We saw a number of interesting plants, including Erythrina caffra, old specimens of Pistacia atlantica, Anchusa aegyptiaca, Verbascum levanticum, Cyclamen persicum and Bosea cypria.

Erythrina Photo

17 February

It was bright, sunny and warm, much better than expected from the weather forecast of a couple of days ago. Our first destination was the Tombs of the Kings. As we entered we could see Cyclamen persicum and Ephedra foeminea growing on the rocks. On top there was a good example of garigue with typical plants such Thymus capitatus, Phagnalon ruperstre and Helichrysum stoechas. We also found the endemic Helianthemum obtusifolium in flower as well as Anemone coronaria and Ruta chalepensis amongst other plants typical of this habitat. We then walked further into the site, looking at the magnificent tombs before ending up on the sand dunes where we saw a different set of plants. Here we saw Paronychia argentea and Senecio glaucus subsp. cyprius. We continued our walk round the site, finding the first orchids of the trip. Anacamptis collina in good flower and later Ophrys flavomarginata. Cyclamen persicum was growing in drifts under the pine trees and in every available rock crack. Other plants included a single Moraea sisyrinchium flower, Withania sommnifera, many Asphodelus ramosus and Bellevalia trifoliata.

Hellianthemum Obtusifolium

At lunch time we moved to the Paphos archaeological site, were we looked at the impressive mosaics. We saw Ricinus communis, Allium neapolitanum and Glebionis coronaria. At the end of the day we came out of the site and walked along the perimeter fence, finding Enarthrocarpus arcuatus and on the rocks below Taraxacum aphrogenes. We also saw black redstart, blue tit, laughing doves, linnet and stonechat.

18 February

Our destination today was the Akrotiri peninsula. Our first stop was in a field on the margin of the Salt lake. Here we started seeing some typical garigue plants, but also some new ones such as Cistus creticus, Helianthemum stipulatum and Alkanna lehmannni. We also saw the dimunitive Ifloga spicata, albeit not in flower. After lunch we drove along Ladies Mile, stopping for Zygophyllum album and flamingos. We continued across the Salt lake and stopped for our lunch, after which we started to explore a nearby meadow. This proved to be full of Anacamptis collina and Ophrys flavomarginata. A single specimen of the beautiful Ophrys iricolor was also admired. Other plants seen here included Anemone coronaria, Ranunculus asiaticus, Teucrium creticum, Cynoglossum creticum and Thymus hirsuta.

Ophrys Iricolor
Cynoglossum Creticum

We continued our journey to the Fasouri marsh were we stopped for Euphorbia hirsuta, also seeing

Cichorium intybus and Ecbalium elaterium. Passing through the marsh we saw spur-winged plovers and a little later 3 frankolins! We continued to Episkopi forest where we saw Juniperus phoenicea, Cupressus sempervirens, Fagonia cretica, Cistus salviifolius and Erodium crassifolium, sadly only in bud. Our last stop was to take photographs of the iconic birth place of Aphrodite

Fagonia Cretica

19 February

Sunny and warm today as we set off for the Troodos mountains, following the Diarizos valley. We drove for about half an hour before making our first stop. We found our first orchid straightway – in Himantoglossum (Barlia) robertianum. We also found the Anacamptis collina, Ophrys sicula, Ophrys alasiatica and saw Quercus coccifera, the Kermes oak. On driving up the valley we found Ophrys flavomarginata, Ophrys iricolor and Ophrys lapethica, as well as Zossima absinthifolia.

Ophrys Lapethica

We reached the village of Omodos in time to have our picnic, have a look at the village and have a coffee. After that we continued our journey higher up, through the village of Platres and on to Troodos, noting the interesting geology on the way. The lowland pine, Pinus brutia was gradually replaced with Pinus nigra.

Growing in the understory were Arbutus andrachne and Quercus alnifolia. When we reached the top we searched and successfully found the tiny Crocus cyprius growing in profusion, this was a trip highlight for many. We then set off on the return journey, stopping to look at Quercus alnifolia and passing some magnificent meadows of Anemone coronaria.

Crocus Cyprius

Today contained a unique unscheduled visit to Yiannis’ garden, we were given a tour and were warmly welcomed to peruse this handcrafted three year old garden.


20 February

Another warm and sunny day as we left our hotel for our next destination. We were to take all day getting there, visiting various sites. Our first stop was at the Environmental Centre at Episkopi were we saw exhibits of the flora and fauna of the Ezousa valley. We looked at the garden with various indigenous plants and examples of garigue and pseudo-steppe. We then continued to the Pegeia forest where we saw many orchids, including Anacamptis syriaca, Ophrys elegans, Ophrys levantina and Ophrys mammosa.

 Ophrys Mammosa

There were several species of Cistus, including C. monspeliensis. Bulbs seen were Gagea fibrosa, G. peduncularis, G. graeca, Bellevalia trifoliata and Bellevalia nivalis. We had lunch in a restaurant today in Kathikas. Our last stop at Terra was to see Cyclamen cyprium.

Bellavalia Nivalis
Gagea Peduncularis

21 February

Again another fine day as we set off from our hotel to explore the fields nearby. The slopes were full of Calycotome villosa in full flower, scenting the area. We reached our destination and soon found a new orchid, Orchis punctulata. With it were growing magnificent Himantoglossum robertianum, Ophrys flavomarginata and Ophrys mammosa. We walked along a track with Cyclamen persicum and Anemone coronaria in flower. We then returned and walked along a track on the ridge. We found Ornithogalum pedicellare coming out in flower on the track. We had our picnic on a slope with views of Chrysochou Bay.

Orchis Punctulata
Ornithogalum Pedicellare & Romulea

We then descended and explored a different habitat, that of freshwater pools. Here we found Ranunculus peltatus and Limosella aquatica and in the drier areas Sedum microcarpum. Moving closer to the sea we found the purple Romulea tempskyana in profusion and Taraxacum aphrogenes, sadly not in flower this time.

Ranunculus Peltatus

Walking back to the hotel the route was lined with Asphodelus fistulosus.

22 February

The Baths of Aphrodite were a short bus ride from our hotel. We walked through the botanic garden seeing Arbutus andrachne and Salvia dominica. Scilla morissii, was in good flower on the rocks. We witnessed two ferns – Anogramma leptophylla and Adiantum capillus-veneris. We then walked along the coast track with wonderful views of the cliff and the slopes full of Cyclamen persicum.

Scilla Morissii
Anogramma Leptophylla

Our afternoon destination was Smygies, an area dominated by Pinus brutia with various understory shrubs. The geology of the area is Troodos serpentine and we saw the first plants typical of these soils, such as the endemics, Alyssum akamascicum, Centaurea veneris and Thymus integer. Fumana arabica was also in flower here. Soon afterwards we started seeing our first orchids. Anacamptis syriaca and Ophrys elegans were everywhere. We also saw Ophrys levantina, O. sicula, O. cinereophila, and Orchis sezekiana. Further down the track we found O. lapethica and O. israelitica. A highlight was Ophioglossum lusitanicum.

Fumana Arabica & Thymus
Ophrys Syriaca
Big Group of Persicum
Orchis Sezekiana

23 February

The final day was spent travelling back to Paphos for most of the group, stopping at a small church in Paphos.

Small church in Paphos


Spring in Cyprus provided an amazing opportunity to witness over 180 plant species including 16 different types of orchids and we were blessed with perfect weather to botanise.  The range of flora at this time of year reflected Cyprus renowned early flowering season.  It provided a unique knowledge-gaining experience from both the plant hunting aspect and from the information exchanged by the extremely knowledgeable Yiannis Christofides and also by the tour participants, many of which are plant experts.  I gained invaluable knowledge of growing conditions and associated plant communities of Cypriot plants, together with a starting knowledge of how geology affects the range of flora.  I found this trip a truly positive and rewarding experience enabling me to grow my ability to share knowledge and ideas with a range of people while nurturing my enthusiasm for botanising in the wild.

Group outside the hotel
Sea and C.Persicum
Group eating ice cream
Me and an olive tree
Olive tree