Nature Notes - June 18, 2009

DURING spring bank holiday I visited the island of Crete with my family.

As well as the usual activities of a family holiday I was lucky enough to find some time to explore the wilder areas of this Greek island.

One of these forays into Crete’s wild landscape took me on a walk up the slopes of its tallest mountain, Mount Idi, which stands 2,400m above sea level and offers some fantastic views.

Crete is the most southerly point in Europe and is separated from the coast of Africa by the Libyan Sea, a fact you become all too aware of when the normal prevailing northerly winds swing to the south bringing heavy, hot dust-laden air that tastes and smells of the nearby African desert.

Given the altitude and the southerly latitude of Idi I was expecting some really unusual flora and, if I was lucky, some fauna. As it turned out, fauna was hard to come by. The only real oddities were a couple of green, medium size lizards and scorpions.

The surprise was the flora, not how different it was but its strange familiarity. Once I had climbed above the cultivated olive groves the steep slopes of Idi were dominated by a heathland-like scrub. There was even a species of gorse.

Above this things were very bleak indeed but one plant was still flowering in abundance and that was the humble daisy. I was amazed that here in a bleak wind and sun blasted landscape at the most southerly tip of Europe the humble daisy was thriving.

I found myself feeling great admiration for this most familiar of plants. Back in England, the daisy has to be one of our commonest and most readily identified plants but away from our lawns or cut paths and rides it becomes hard to find out on the nature reserves, being out-competed by wild plants of taller stature.

The only places that come to mind where the daisy is found out on the reserves of the Wyre Forest district are the tightly rabbit grazed lawns of Burlish Top and Habberley Valley.

My thoughts concluded that the daisy had evolved to thrive in harsh environment where the natural pressures of grazing( Idi had a good helping of semi and feral goats) and or the environment prevent other more vigorous plants growing and shading out the daisy. On lawns, mowing machines mimic grazing by felling any thing of any stature and hence provide perfect conditions for the daisy to thrive.

Thinking back to Crete and its bleak hillside environment and the abundance of goats on Mount Idi I would have imagined that given there was so little else and the reputation of goats to eat just about anything, then the daisy must have another trick up its sleeve.

It turns out that daisy contains natural chemicals that dissuaded grazing animals and even most insects from eating it. The chemical contents of the humble daisy have not gone unnoticed by man and Roman armies used to gather daisies when they came across them and when the need arose they would make a potion from the leaves which they would add to bandages to help prevent wounds from become infected.

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