What many people do not know about Chios is that this island contains 102 species of orchids, most of which are extremely rare. But it seems that before the world acknowledges the presence of these beautiful flowers, some species of which are present on Chios only, they will vanish off the face of the earth.
Some of the orchid varieties found on Chios are Gymnodemnia Conopsea, Anacamtis Pyramidalis and Dactylorhiza Romana, to name a few. Growing in unlikely places, such as in forest clearings, between rocks, along the edges of roads and fields, in meadows and fallow fields as well as among bushes, they are easily overlooked and not many people realize the significance of these exquisite flowers. Northern Chios, due to its varied and beautiful flora is also listed in the Natura Program.
Pantelis Saliaris, Head of Technical services for all the municipalities in the Chios prefecture, is also a member of Hellenic Foundation for the protection of nature, and has been an active force in the quest to preserve the natural beauty of Chios. “The Orchids of Chios”, was his latest book, which was published by the Kardamilon Municipality, and consists of exquisite pictures of the beautiful flowers which will be lost to the world if efforts are not made for their conservation. Saliaris has been compiling photographs of the wide variety of flora on Chios, for the past 15 years.
Apart from writing books, Saliaris is also an active participant in the bid to conserve the orchids of Chios, he was the President of the committee which organized Ophrys 2005, held from the 13th of April till the 16th, it was an international congress on self sown orchids. At the conference he spoke about how most of the varieties of orchids which were once found on the island in abundance, are now dying out. He cited the destruction caused by land clearing, road building, illegal grazing as well as fire as the main causes for this fact.
Little known is the fact that the bulbs of these flowers are also used by the locals to make a special drink, due to which they cut off the flowers, while in bloom. Drastic climate change in the area is another reason for the diminishing numbers of these flowers. Unlike many other European countries, which have laws to protect self sown orchids, Greece has no such provisions. Ruing the fact that the locals in Chios do not value the orchids enough, and often destroy them as they cannot be cultivated, he remarked “they are our heritage, the dowry of Chios”.
Due to the ignorance of the islanders regarding the orchids, Saliaris has aimed his book at providing them with information about the rich natural environment on the island, and the significance of these orchids. His book also aims at specialists, parts in which he has discussed the various species that grow on Chios. Saliaris is not satisfied with just getting his book out, and has full plans of holding seminars and talking to people about the magnificent flowers that grow on the island. Children, Saliaris believes, are an important resource to tap, as he believes they are genuinely interested and often ask serious questions about the flowers. Saliaris himself began his tryst with nature when he was a child, when his father gave him his first camera. “I went outside and found the wild flowers on the island very exciting”, he exclaimed.