Botanist cataloguing nature’s treasures in Greece turns to Amorgos

Botanist cataloguing nature’s treasures in Greece turns to Amorgos

The Greek island of Amorgos is thought to have been named after amorgis, a rare type of flax that grows on its craggy mountains and was used in ancient times to produce the thread with which its much-coveted chitons (tunics) were made.

Even its name reveals the importance of the flora on this island, which though among the most arid in the Cyclades (with average annual rainfall of 350 millimeters) is host to 1,092 plant species.

“It represents more than half the plant species that have been recorded in the Cyclades, which are around 1,900,” the internationally acclaimed botanist and Copenhagen University professor Dr Kit Tan tells Kathimerini, explaining why she chose to investigate every nook and cranny of this island.

Tan, along with Burkhard Biel, is co-author of the book “Flora of Amorgos,” which was recently published by Greece’s Goulandris Natural History Museum. It is her 18th book on Greek plants, with the previous one being about Samothraki, a fact that makes Tan one of the preeminent authorities on Greek flora.

According to the researchers, Amorgos is host to at least 28 endemic plants – a remarkable record given its small size – thanks to the protection its craggy limestone landscape offers. The plants growing on the cliffs above the southern coast and in the deep ravines are of particular interest, they note, adding that there is a wealth of plant life near the island’s natural springs and along streams coming down from its highest peaks, such as Krikelo, Profitis Ilias and Korakas. Amorgos, they stress, is a “botanical treasure” that is under threat and needs to be protected for generations to come.

Tan has always been fascinated by nature and is fully aware of the huge responsibility she and other experts like herself have in safeguarding it.

“A complex, changing flora, under actual or potential threat, requires rational study. Facts are needed to support wise action that may contain or mitigate the effects of human damage. Facts, and facts alone, can inform and equip conservation agencies and elicit public understanding and educated sympathy which must be the bedrock of any program to reduce the biotic threat of man. Man’s effects on the landscape, the biota and, latterly, on the climate, are too well known to need repetition here. To quote Aristotle: Nothing is created by nature without reason,” says Tan.

Tan’s research comes at a time when the Greek scientific community is under particular pressure as a result of funding shortages.

“It is correct that there is no adequate funding. But there is a tremendous interest in Greek nature from amateur naturalists – those who are not professional scientists but people who love and enjoy nature. Some of the best and most knowledgeable people on Greek flora are teachers of mathematics, physics, music and even hairdressers. And these people are not working in botanical science as a livelihood but enjoy it as a hobby. To quote Aristotle again: Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work,” says Tan.

Tan’s work is by no means done.

“There is a planned illustrated ‘Mountain Flora of Greece,’ which caters for all mountain plants growing over 1,800 m (or the tree line) and a planned ‘Flora of the Peloponnese.’ And another Endemics book. My colleague Biel is also thinking about the island of Milos or perhaps Astypalaia – we have not decided. When I have published 25 books, I will stop. Amorgos is number 18.”

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