Lesbos, the largest, in terms of size, island in the East Aegean and third largest in Greece, soon became a pole of attraction for botanists, walkers, and scientists. The first reference to the island’s flora was made by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1703) and J. Dumont d’Urville (1822). The most important researchers of the island’s flora during the last century were the doctor Constantinos A. Kanartzis, who presented his findings in his essay “Flore de l’ile de Lesbos, Plantes Sauvages et cultivees” (1889) and his son Palaiologos C. Cantartzis. The latter wrote his thesis on the topic of “La Vegetation de l’ l’ile de Lesbos” at the University of Sorbonne (1899), while he made a significant contribution to the broadening of knowledge of the island’s flora when he published his findings in a french Scientific Journal (1897 – 1898). It is worth mentioning that he described approximately 60 new species (unknown until then). However very few are accepted today. M. De Boissieu also made a minor contribution during the past century (1896). A great deal of new information is provided by the great Austrian botanist Karl Heinz Rechinger in his essay, Flora Aegea (1943). Werner Rauh (1949), who succeeded Rechinger, focused his research on the island’s vegetation rather than its flora. More recent references are made by Peter H. Davis (Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands, 1965 – 1985), K.A. Zachariadis (1977), John R. Edmondson (1982), Peter Golz and Hans Reinhard (1981, 1989), Alfred Hansen (1986), Alfred Hansen & Henry Nielsen (1993), Artemis Giannitsaro and Eva Economidou (1974, 1975), Artemis Giannitsaro (1977, 1979, 1982, 1992) and Giannis Bazo & Artemis Giannitsaro (1992, 1993, 1994).
It is estimated that the flora of Lesbos consists of 1400-1500 plant taxa. Its richness is greatly due to the variety of biotopes on the island, the particularity of its rock formations, the long-term effect of man’s activity on nature, its proximity to Asia Minor as well as the recent, from a geological point of view, detachment of the East Aegean from the coasts of Minor Asia.
Alyssum lesbiacum is perhaps the only endemic species of the island. However some plants of the East such as Rhododendron luteum and Haplophyllum megalanthum are only found on Lesbos, while others are found very rarely and dispersed all over Greece, e.g. Osmunda regalis, Datisca cannabina, Comperia comperiana, Dianthus anatolicus, Elatine alsinastrum, Corydalis integra, Ranunculus isthmicus, Silene urvillei and others.
In recent years a large number of dangers pose a serious threat to the rich flora of Lesbos, the most important of which are: road construction, building, negative impact of tourism development, exsiccation and transformation of land into building sites (mainly in the Kalloni and Larsou-Dipi area), transformation of mountain tops into “forests” of all sorts of aerials (an object lesson of how to ruin a beautiful scenery would be Prophetis Ilias of Agiasos), fires and over-grazing in certain areas. For the above reasons, it is urgent more than ever before, that measures be taken to protect the wildlife of Lesbos. Its wildlife not only a wealth-producing resource – if we consider the number of visitors who come to the island every year to walk along its paths in the hope of locating and getting a close-up view of the rare plants and animals of Lesbos – but also part of the natural heritage and pride of the whole of Greece.
Text was written by Yiannis Bazos (biologist studied at the University of Athens)