Greeks seek native flora from botanical gardens abroad, as some species threatened with extinction

For 130 years, the Adonis cyllenea, a yellow anemone from the Peloponnese, was considered extinct until a few clusters were recently discovered on a rugged mountainside. Yet for decades, any Dane or Swede has been able view this lovely flower in the botanic gardens of Copenhagen or Gothenburg, where the Adonis cyllenea graces the Greek flora sections among dozens of species native to Greece. This is just one example of the hundreds of rare plants that have been removed from Greek mountains over the past three centuries. Now the Balkan Botanic Gardens of Krousia (BBKK), at Pontokerasia in the prefecture of Kilkis, northern Greece, has begun a campaign to have them returned. Greece’s endemic plant species (which grow nowhere else in the world) can be seen in botanical gardens in several European cities but are absent from Greek collections. Greek botanists have reported several of them on sale at private nurseries, yet there are either very few, if any, still growing in the wild in Greece, and those usually in inaccessible places. At a meeting of Planta Europa to be held this September in Bucharest, Romania, with representatives from all over Europe, the BBKK is to raise the issue of repatriating Greek plants from botanical gardens and foundations around Europe in an attempt to put an end to the «Greek Plants’ Odyssey» as their report is titled. Already, in accordance with international conventions on the exchange of plant material, three European botanical gardens (those in Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin) responded to a request from the BBKK and sent genetic material for the reproduction of rare Greek plants. «We have begun creating a separate section of repatriated species. Later we are planning to exhibit them as decorative and pharmaceutical species,» said Eleni Maloupa, head of the BBKK and researcher at the National Foundation for Agricultural Research. An estimated 500 endemic species have been removed from Greece for reasons that are not difficult to explain. «Greece, along with most countries in the Balkans,» said Maloupa, «is home to the richest and most interesting native flora in Europe.» Since 1700, many famous botanists, plant geographers and taxonomists from Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Hungary and naturally Britain have been collecting plants from various parts of the Balkans and Greece, giving their own names to hundreds of plant species. Impressed by the richness, beauty and rarity of the flora, many scientists, particularly recently, have exported living native plants, mostly for scientific purposes (apart from the thousands of dried plants). Rare plants from Greece are still cultivated and exhibited in several European botanical gardens and herbaria (including in Berlin, Copenhagen, Cambridge, Gothenburg, Paris, Florence, Edinburgh). Most organizations realize that collecting rare plant species creates a major problem for Greece and other Balkan countries. «Arbitrary exploratory missions of botanical interest, exploration by private individuals, the dangers posed by amateur naturalists, botanists or gardeners who uproot plants for transplanting into their own gardens or private collections are actions that are unequivocally condemned by the international community,» said Nikos Krigas, a researcher and biologist at Aristotle University’s Systematic Botany and Plant Geography Laboratory. «Moreover, many rare endemic Greek plant species are sold on various markets, but in Greece are hard to find,» he added. He cites the example of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder (1999-2000) that includes rare endemic species from Greece in the Red Data Book of Rare and Threatened Plants in sections II and IV of the European Union Directive 92.43 and on the World Conservation Monitoring Center’s lists. In all, 115 different rare endemic Greek species (more than 15 percent of all Greece’s endemic species) have been found at various sale points in Britain. Typical among these, said Krigas, are the Cretan endemic Origanum dictamus, Campanula incurva (central and southeastern Greece) or the Helichrysum sibthorpii from Mt Athos, which is also included in the International Berne Convention. Just a few other examples are Abies cephlonica (Cephalonian fir), Campanula andewsii, Crocus hadriaticus and Crocus cartwrightianus, Fritillaria spetsiotica and Fritillaria thessala subsp. Ionica, Ebenus cretica, Viola athois. Although it is clearly set out in Paragraph 15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio 1992) regarding access to a country’s phytogenetic resources, the Greek authorities have not issued any official permit for collecting plant material from the natural environment, and no official agreement has yet been signed, according to Greek botanists. «Unfortunately, access to Greece’s phytogenetic resources appears to be open to all and there is no control over the profits earned by foreign organizations and individuals trading in them,» said Maloupa. «The BBKK appeals to all botanic gardens and other organizations for the purpose of repatriating documented plant material collected from the wild in Greece and the Balkans and taken to other countries before or after the Convention on Biodiversity was signed.»

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.