About the flora of Samothraki
Character and peculiarities

a contribution by Burkhard Biel (March 2006)

The flora of Samothraki is of special attraction to botanists and other friends of nature since long. First records already amazingly bulky have come down from Dr. Arpad von Degen who travelled the island from 27. to 29. June 1890 and who managed to climb the difficult peak of Fengari (Saos mountains). Further famous botanists with similar excursion program were Alfred Ade (1. - 6. July 1933) and Karl-Heinz Rechinger (18. - 20. June 1936). The reasons for this attraction briefly said can be seen in the special geografic-climatic position of the island and her extreme geomorphology
Total view from the ferry boat, 11.05.2001

For understanding of this situation some basics of the island's nature shall be explained shortly: Samothrakis is situated at the north-eastern border of the Aegean Sea, thus within a transition area of the true Mediterranean climate with southern Balkan-Pontic characteristics. The temperatures are more moderate in general, the rainfall a bit higher then in the rest of the Aegean. Extreme weather conditions like in 2002 occasionally let doubt the island's Mediterranean location: Masses of snow in wintertime up to 2 m high and down to the coast and disastrous thundery showers in April/May with up to 120 l/m², accompanied by immense damages from tearing waters and boulders at roads and buildings.

Masses of snow in Kamariotissa
photo: Scheel, 23.12.2001

On the whole but this climate promotes the natural green character of Samothraki. Geology and rocks are of volcanic origin (in contrast to the neighbouring island of Thasos). They are part of the Macedonia–Thrace–massif of Mesozoic (age ca. 65-255 mil. years). After repeated tectonic distortion of the island today in the main there are granite and basalt in the mountains and dark slate, magmatite and mixed overlies of gravel in the lower areas.
Especially conspicuous is the abundance of water supply with lots of springs and perennial rivers which is based on the high precipitation and the water leading substratum. The following photos sow examples:

Source river of Xiropotamos falling down to valley 25.10.2002

right: Waterfall of Xiropotamos, Xiropotamos, 03.05.2001

Thus Samothraki is a relatively green island. Along the coastline and on the gently inclined slopes fields are arranged, some extensively used but far more lay fallow (especially in the west), extensive olive groves and small fruit gardens, remnants of Platanus-alluvial forests with swamps (along the north coast) and wide areas with macchie and phrygana.The last mentioned areas too stretch up the mountain slopes where they give way to open oak woods from ca. 500 m onwards.

 This concerns but nearly exclusively the northern part of the mountains. On the southern slopes where the natural timber line was destroyed already in past ages only small groups of trees remained. Above the timber line, from ca. 1000-1200 m on, a narrow belt of shrub with Phenician Juniper and Cretan Berberis follows. The high mountains mostly are covered with an open thorn cushion phrygana, on the rocky areas mosses and colourful lichens grow.
According to the great hight of the island three vegetation units can be distinguished:

– the evergreen belt in the lowland, it remains rather narrow because of the northern situation,

– the summer green belt on the mountain slopes, as formerly broad area of oak woods and

– summit mountain area from ca. 1300 m onwards.

Following a few interesting representatives of the plants of Samothraki are presented, among which one of the endemics, that is a species only growing on Samothraki, nowhere else on the world.
Expensed olive groves below chapel of Kremniotissa, 04.05.2001

Spring in the lowland, phrygana and olive groves:

Anemone (Anemone pavonina),
Therma, 05.05.2001
Toadflax (Linaria genistifolia),
Hora, 29.04.2001
Ophrys (Ophrys scolopax subsp. cornuta),
Kamariotissa, 11.05.2001
Golden Alison (Aurinia saxatilis),
Hora, 30.04.2001
Yellow-cress (Rorippa thracica),
Therma, 05.05.2001
Periploca (Periploca graeca),
Kamariotissa, 10.06.2000
Black Onion (Allium nigrum),
Kamariotissa, 28.04.2001
Foxglove (Digitalis lanata),

Foxglove (Digitalis lanata),
Therma, 28.05.2002


As uniqueness is in the rock in a few places of the north and south coasts to find the best-known endemic:  The Samothrace Bellflower (Symphanandra samothracica), Profitis Ilias, 04.05.2001

For those who want to know it better: Up to now more then 1400 plant species have been detected on Samothraki and published, to be read in the publication, alternatively in an English or Greek version, of the Goulandris Museum:

Flora of Samothraki from Burkhard Biel and Kit Tan

A contribution to the flora of Samothraki unfortunately cannot do without some serious annotations to the state of the nature and its chances of development in the future.

Every interested visitor of the island will be stroked by the conspicuous massive damages to the plants because of the permanent browsing of sheep and goats. Every not high and solidly fenced square meter of the island is affected, from the coastline to the peak of Fengari. The olive groves usually are sterile, the phrygana get more and more incomplete, the shrub has already died on bigger expanses and the valuable oak wood has no future – no tree can be found younger then ca. 50 years.

The nature we can experience today on Samothraki thus only is the humble rest of a potential abundance!

Though in fact already two years ago Greece declared the “Fengari Samothrakis ...” with ca. 9603 ha nearly half of the island's area as Site of Community Importance (SCI), combined with the obligation to care for and protect this Europ-wide important landscape. However this declaration, not only to the opinion of the author, has proved up to now as a typical “paper tiger”. Unfortunately no translation into action of the well-meant EU-legislation is visible – on the contrary, during the last few years for example a lot of new field roads have been traced out even into the higher mountains and there new cattle stables have been built. The intensity of pasture increases permanently thanks to the generous subvention of the European authorities.
The nature of Samothraki, the only (touristic) capital of the island, can only be saved for future generations if the extreme pressure is reduced. Most important measure surely would be to abolish the subvention of the (uncontrolled) cattle breeding. A lot of the problems already could be solved by this.
More over there too are local problems originated from the increasing tourism, especially where it sums up locally – for example in the areas of the official and wild camping areas from Therma. Good sense and foresighted planning is needed every time!

Ade, A. & K.-H. Rechinger (1938): Samothrake. - Feddes Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg., Beih. 100: 106-146.
Biel, B. (2003): Zur Orchideenflora der Inseln Samothraki (Griechenland) und Gökçeada (Türkei) - mit kurzem Ausflug auf das griechische Festland bei Alexandroupoli (Nomos Evros).--Ber. Arbeitskrs. Heim. Orchid. 20 (2): 63-94 [publ. 2004].
Degen, A. v. (1891): Ergebnisse einer botanischen Reise nach der Insel Samothrake. - Österr. Bot. Z. 41 (9-10): 301-306, 329-338.
Katsikopoulos, I. (1936): Simvoli is tin meletin tis chloridos tis nisou Samothrakis. - Georgikon Deltion 1936: 12 pp.
Stojanov, N. & B. Kitanov (1943): Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Florula der Insel Samothrake. - Izv. Bulg. Bot. Druzh. (Bull. Soc. Bot. Bulg.) 9: 49-51.
Stojanov, N. & B. Kitanov (1944): Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Flora und der Vegetationsverhältnisse der Insel Samothrake. - God. Sofijsk. Univ. Fiz.-Mat. Fak (Jahrb. Univ. Sofia, Phys.-math. Fakultät) 3 40: 403-464.
Strid, A. & K. Tan (1998): Flora and vegetation of northeast Greece including Thasos and Samothraki. - veröff. Exkursionsbericht, University of Copenhagen.

Address of the author:
Burkhard Biel, Am Judengarten 3, D-97204 Höchberg

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