Orchids & Wildflowers

Cyprus experiences a typical Mediterranean climate of long, hot, dry summers and short, warm, wet winters. After the first rains in November the island is transformed from a dry arid landscape to a lush, green landscape.  The ground springs to life immediately  when the tiny autumn squill, Scilla autumnalis ,and the single-flowered narcissus, Narcissus serotinus, make their appearance. Habitats are varied.  In the North the Kyrenia range, mostly sedimentary limestone, rises to 1000 metres and is extensively covered with pine and cypress forest mixed here and there with arbutus, the eastern strawberry tree, Arbutus andrachne, with its strikingly smooth, red bark.   In the early spring the forest floor is orchid-rich.  Carpets of the pink Anatolian orchid, Orchis anatolica, cover the ground beneath the pines and here and  cascades of the Italian orchid, Orchis Italica, tumble down the slopes.  The lower hillsides are composed of  typical maquis type vegetation with shrubby, prickly oak, Quercus coccifera, calycotome, Calycotome villosa, whose fragrant perfume fills the air and terebinth bushes, Pistacia terebinthus, whose berries are used to flavour savoury breads. These lower slopes are also extensively planted out with groves of olive and carob, both important trees and some of them centuries old.  The local olive oil is of a high quality and the carob beans are used for animal fodder and are crushed to produce carob syrup.  The coastline lower down is mostly garigue with extensive areas of pink and white rock roses, cistus,  and juniper scrub. Finally here and there along the coast the rocky cliffs and  empty sandy beaches have their own unique flora including the spectacular white beach lily, Pancratium maritimum, that flowers in the autumn.

The range of habitats yield up a great diversity of plants.  In N. Cyprus there are over 1,000 plant species.  In all Cyprus there are more than 100 endemic plants,  19 of which are endemic specifically to the North.  Among these are the Hilarion cabbage, Brassica hilarionus, whose distribution is limited to St. Hilarion castle and nearby peaks;  and Arabis cypria which grows in clumps along the rocky ridge;  and a pink campion, Silene fraudatrix,  seen  around the forest station of Alevkayasi ;  and the very rare Delphinium caseyii, found also in the Kyrenia range. The national flower of Cyprus is the dark red tulip, Tulipa cypria, endemic to all Cyprus, rare, with very limited distribution.

Much of the flora in spring is strikingly yellow including dazzling displays of crown daisies, Chrysanthemum coronarum, and fields of mustard, Sinapis alba.  In January and February the hillsides and grassy slopes are covered with pink and blue anemones, Anemone coronara, followed later by the cream and gold turban buttercup, Ranunculus asiaticus. Widespread and  growing in profusion, especially around Kantara, are wild cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum. The tiny blue wild iris, Gynandriris sisyrhinchium, comes up on dry verges and on the rooftops of Kyrenia Castle.   Everywhere wild orchids can be found including the beautifully-marked endemic orchid, Ophrys kotschyi. In late spring the crimson gladiolus, Gladiolus italicus, can be seen growing amongst the cereal crops.  Towards the end of May when the rains have stopped the island once again endures the long hot summer when only thistles seem to thrive and the landscapes become once again dry and bleached pending the next rainy season.