Thousands of years ago Mother Nature gifted Lesvos with unique flora and fauna. In prehistoric times people used to call the island “Efthendro” and “Lasia” because it was and still is covered with lush vegetation.
In the central peninsula of Lesvos rises Mount Olympus with an altitude of 967m at the top and 500m at its foot. There lies the traditional settlement of Agiasos. The surroundings of Agiasos are covered with orchards, olive, walnut and chestnut groves as well as pine forests. On the other hand the top of Mount Olympus is bare and rocky.
The area at the foot of the mountain is a botanical paradise especially during spring. Among the trees and bushes there are many common and rare plants as well as medicinal herbs. “Bitonicas”, balsam, sage, poppies, wild roses, different kinds of daisies, anemones, thistles, ornithogalo, aristilochia indigenous tulips, fritillaries, peonies, wild violets and psoralea are some of the most common plants you’ll encounter while trekking.
However, passionate amateurs and specialist botanists are really interested in self-sown orchids. Agiasos orchids are of the most impressive and rare species in Greece and Europe. Some of them are the following:
The gender of Orchis took its name from its two round roots which simulate to male genitals. The second name following the family name specifies the species. Orchis “Tridentata” species is called thus because of the three toothed pods at the lower part of the flower. Inflorescence is relatively dense and hemispheric. Flowers are in varied shades of pink. The conic tappet, so characteristic of the gender, has no nectar inside. The side sepals and petals of the flower form a hood. Insects pollinate it. It prefers to grow in semi shady environments with chalky and neutral soils in open pine forests and brushwood areas. It blossoms from mid-April to the end of June in places with a high altitude.
The gender of Ophrys and particularly the species of reinholdii (Reinhold’s orchid) is an elegant middle-sized plant. Its flowers have triangular pink sepals with a central green vine. The rim of the flower looks like a colourful female insect attracting this way the male insects which in their effort to mate they pollinate the flower. This species grows on chalky soils in pinewoods and brushwood areas. It blossoms from the end of March to the beginning of May.
Limodorum abortivum was named by Theofrastus the Greek botanist and philosopher from Lesvos. It is a common orchid of the island, quite robust and tall, which can be found in pine forests and chestnut groves. It has long deep roots and violet colour without any trace of green leaves. The stalk has small leaves that look like scales. Its flowers are big and violet with a long tappet.
Anacamptis means looking backwards and it took its name by the position of pollen mixtures on the pollen tube. The second name of the species is pyramidalis meaning pyramid like because of the shape of the flower’s inflorescence. It is a variform plant with thin, lanceolate leaves. The inflorescence has many small, rose and fragrant flowers. The tappet is long and bent downwards. It grows in chalky dry soils in olive, chestnut groves and pine forests. It blossoms from the end of April to May and sometimes the beginning of June.
Cephalanthera took its name by the round shape of its pollen tube which looks like a head. The second name of this species is longifolia, coming from its long, lanceolate leaves. It is a common orchid of mount Olympus area. It is characterized by its creeping roots, permutated leaves and spikelet inflorescence and buds. This plant is propagated by bulbils. It grows in hemi shady areas of pine forests and chestnut groves. It prefers chalky soil and blossoms from April till the end of May.
Himantoglossum comperianoum, until recently known as comperia comperiana, is the botanic attraction of the area. It is one of the most interesting and rare orchids in Europe. Originally it comes from the East and it can be found in the high mountains of Asia Minor, Lebanon, Syria and Crimea. Lesvos and particularly Mount Olympus is the western area to be found. It grows in mountainous pine forests at an altitude of 600m. and prefers shady areas with chalky soil. It usually blossoms from the beginning of May to late June. The orchid flower is characterized by the long thread-like endings of its rim which sometimes grow over 4cm long.
There are other species of Himantoglossum growing in the same area as the Comperia. Himantoglossum took its name by the greek words Himandas (belt or lace) and glossa (tongue) both connected with the form and size of the flower’s rim. Its flowers are rose coloured with purple dots at the bottom of the rim. The middle pod is forked with a length of 90 mm while the split is 10-50 mm long. This orchid grows in shady areas with chalky soil at the edge of forests. It blossoms from June until July.
Something totally new and extremely rare is the hybrid I happened to discover in Spring 2004 a little further up from Sanatorium in Agiasos. It is a species between the two previous ones, Himantoglossum comperianoum and Himantoglossum montis tauri. It is a unique plant with no previous reference universally. It is obviously the new botanic attraction of Agiasos. It was named Comrtoglossum agiasense, I Karatzas , nothogen, et spec.nat.nov.
Orchids are the biggest and at the same time the youngest plant family in which the evolution has not been completed yet.
Their innumerable properties and peculiarities are impressive. The unmatchable beauty of their elegant flowers attracts every spring many people to look for them at the foot of Mount Olympus. Self-sown orchids on Lesvos are in real danger at the moment because they’re threatened by overgrazing, intensive cultivation, over construction of the countryside and generally any human intervention with nature destroying thus their natural habitats. We hope that this introduction to some of the important orchids of the area of Agiasos will make people more sensitive and respectful towards them and contribute in the effort of saving them.
All wild orchids are under strict protection by the European Community. If we eventually protect their natural habitats sufficiently we will be able to gain further growth of our economic resources through alternative forms of eco tourism.
(Speech given by John Karatzas at the 1st Cherry Festival of the Municipality of Agiasos)
Municipal Unit of Agiasos