World has only 15 surviving Centaurea corinthiaca plants

Although the disappearance of plants and the appearance of new species is a natural process that has been occurring for millions of years, once humans entered the picture the equilibrium began to be lost. Today, plants cannot adapt to the rate at which change is occurring in their environment. As a result, dozens of species have already disappeared and others are endangered. According to Grigoris Iatrou, the greatest threat is the burning of large areas of natural vegetation to make way for cultivation. Another great danger is the isolation of species, prohibiting the exchange of genetic material. «Plants are in effect an indicator of environmental disturbance. When we see a population is experiencing problems, we know that something is wrong,» he said. It is also important to tell people about our country’s rare flora so that they take more care in the countryside not to damage the natural environment. For example, we know that when we park our car alongside a country road, we may be trampling down weeds, but few of us think we might also be contributing to the disappearance of a rare endemic plant. One species that has disappeared is Alkanna sartoriana, which used to grow in the Argolid in the northeastern Peloponnese, between Nafplion and Tolos. The rapid growth of tourism and housing as well as the expansion of agricultural land has disturbed the habitats where the plant thrived. Iatrou said that every area of flat land that has remained uncultivated is used as a parking lot, while rocky ecosystems have been turned into quarries. Yet he is optimistic, since a very small population of this species was recently found on an islet opposite Tolos. Ever since 1911 all traces of Centaura tuntasia, known only in the region of Nea Liosia, western Attica, have been lost. There have been extensive and exhaustive efforts to find a population of this species, but the search has been fruitless. Housing settlements, roadworks and quarrying have spread out over the entirety of the Attica basin, leading to the reduction of many natural ecosystems and a drastic reduction in the number of native species. Thus another endemic variety which has not appeared in any other part of the world has joined the list of extinct species. The same fate appears to have come to Astragalus drupaceus, an endemic species of the Peloponnese. The population of this plant on Mt Kyllini, not far above the village of Trikala, in Corinthia, no longer exists because of the expansion of cultivated land around the village, grazing by goats and the construction of a road making the area accessible to everyone, but destroying the native flora. There are some traces of a second population in Laconia, further south in the Peloponnese, consisting of isolated individuals growing on the sides of a road between Hania and Krokees. Its attempts to spread on either side of the road are restricted by cultivation of the surrounding land. One of the endemic plants most in danger is Centaurea corinthiaca, known from a very small population between the isthmus of Corinth and Loutraki. During recent decades in which Loutraki has seen enormous growth in its tourist trade, the population of this plant has been decimated. Researchers recently found about 15 individuals at the edge of an olive grove by the roadside. Potentilla arcadiensis, mentioned above, is another threatened endemic species. It grows on the eastern slopes of Mt Parnonas, on the steep, almost vertical asvestolithika rocks. Iatrou says that although the plant has a great capacity to reproduce, its seeds do not produce much growth. «If we take into account the harsh soil and competition from neighboring plants, we must conclude that if just one of these plants is destroyed, it is irreplaceable,» he said. Among the factors threatening this species are the works in progress to extend the Monastery of Elonas, work to widen the road, and the number of experts who have been gathering specimens of this plant. The situation is somewhat similar with the population of Stachys spreitzenhoferi, found in the fortress of Monemvasia, as well as Minuartia favergeri in the Elonas gorge. «In the end, everyone has to realize that along with the country’s invaluable archaeological treasures, the equally invaluable treasures of Greece’s natural environment need to be recorded and protected,» Iatrou said.