The type and variation of flowers that grow and thrive in Greece is extraordinary, with many of the more than 6,000 species found there actually indigenous to the country. Specifically, the country's Peloponnese region and the island of Crete are two areas with the largest abundance of native wild flowers, primarily due to their temperate Mediterranean climates and mineral-rich soil, from orchids to daffodils to bougainvillea, although many of these flowers do bloom elsewhere in Greece as well.
The wild orchid (Ophrys speculum) blossoms in April or May and flourishes in grass or chalky ground. When in full bloom, the flowers typically are about 15 cm diameter and are known for their beautiful pink and purple coloring. Interestingly, the center of the orchid that is native to Greece evolved to resemble the insects that spread its pollen. Because the flower looks like a female, the males try to mate with it, and the spores stick to their bodies.
The crocus flower (Crocus flavus) is a member of the iris family and blossoms in an array of colors such as white, yellow, orange, red and purple. With the flower petals spanning 8 cm when in full bloom, this beautiful perennial flourishes in early to mid-spring or early autumn and can be found most often in dry, barren ground. In addition, crocuses are protected from frost by a waxy cuticle, which allows them to bloom even during unseasonable cold spells. In Greek mythology, Zeus allegedly used a crocus to lure Phoenician princess Europa while she was flower-picking so he could carry her away with him.
Daffodils (Asphodelus microcarpus) are popular white and yellow flowers with long, tall stems most often found in dry, barren soil. Their aesthetic beauty is a result of their central trumpet-like structure set against a star-shaped backdrop. Although these flowers symbolize friendship in the modern day, the ancient Greeks viewed them as a symbol of death and believed that Hades was covered with them. During World War I, however, oil extracted from the flower was used by military hospitals to relieve muscular stiffness and pain in soldiers.
The uniquely shaped Roman orchid (Dactylorhiza romana) varies in color from pink and red to white, yellow and cream. It prefers mildly acidic soil conditions such as those found mostly in Greece's central and eastern Mediterranean areas. The Roman orchid flourishes in a range of environments, from rocky or sandy ground to open woodlands to grassy areas that are populated with bushes. It commonly blooms in March or April and likes sunny or partially shaded ground.
The cliff rose (Cistus monspeliensis) doesn't resemble the common rose many people know and often grows in drier environments with a chalky ground or rocky fields with lots of bushes. The flowers emanate from a modestly sized shrub or small tree with shredded bark that grows 8 to 20 feet tall. The flower has white petals with green leaves, the latter of which sometimes have white spots. Typically, one flower on the shrub will bloom each day from March through June. Throughout Greek history, the cliff rose was used for protection; because it is so dense, the plant left no footholds that would have allowed hostile forces to climb rock walls.
The vine-like bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) was named for Admiral Louis de Bougainville after being discovered and named by his botanist in 1768. This flower often flourishes best in drier environments and typically blossoms at night. Flower petals range in color from bright white to yellow and orange to purplish red. The bougainvillea is often planted around homes and, within four to six weeks, develops a good root system. This plant also is practically insect-free. This is one of the more popular plants grown and pruned throughout Greece today.
The highly fragrant hyacinth (Muscari comosum) blooms in tight clusters in April or May, with attractive bluish-purple flowers. It is most often found in fruit gardens or rocky soil and has been cultivated commercially since the second half of the 16th century. The flower was named for Hyacinthus, a beautiful young man in Greek mythology whom Apollo loved. It was said that Apollo killed Hyacinthus while teaching him discus-throwing, and subsequently turned his lover's blood into the flower.