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Greece's Autumn Secret

Wildflowers surprise, delight fall travelers to Greece

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Wild poppies in Crete

Wild poppies in Crete

Picture by deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
High in the mountains, the ancient oracle of Dodona spoke to querents through the sound of the wind rustling through the trees. Modern visitors may not be able to understand the nuances of that sound, but Dodona's welcome is clear in the carpet of wildflowers greeting Autumn visitors. Against the lush green grass, kept moist by mountain rains, bright crocuses emerge. Alongside them, starry yellow flowers burst against a seemingly green sky of grass. Nearby Ioaninna ( Yiannina) is also a good jumping-off point for visits to the remote Zagorian villages, where rare flowers thrive. In the Vikos Gorge area, herb doctors called komboyannites or "Vikos Doctors" gathered medicinal herbs and plants.

The abundance of Greek wildflowers helps empower the famous honeys of Greece, so be careful before you plunge your nose into one of them - most wildflowers boast a busy staff of bees.

In many parts of Greece,a carpet of wildflowers means autumn as much as spring.

Elsewhere, fall anemones catch the eye unexpectedly, seeming too frail and lovely to be growing wild. Hawthorn berries will be ripe, with a rose red color against the slightly grey-green foliage. In rocky areas at relatively low altitudes, keep an eye for the golden crocus-like flowers of the sterngerbia sicula, in bloom from September to November. It makes a particularly dramatic appearance as it flowers before it sends up leaves.

The perouka, or cymbalaria uralis, grows almost everywhere with slightly thick, lobed leaves resembling a flattened geranium leaf. It enjoys clinging to rocks and growing on ancient temple sites, sharing pale pink flowers from May through October.

When looking for wildflowers, look down. Many of the fall varieties are short and stocky. The kampanakia has big white flowers on fleshy small leaves which trail along the ground. It likes sandy shores and can be found on the islands of Kythira and Rhodes, among others.

Pink-flowering koumaria also bears fruits, which ripen from a vivid orange to a pleasing deep red. It's in flower from September through November, with bright fruits remaining on the plant into December and beyond. Crocuses and anemones unite the seasons in Greece, with some varieties in blossom in all but the coldest places. The tiny, delicate white and pale violet Crocus laevigatus grows in the mountains and brightens the day from November through January. In partial shade, keep your eyes open for the Cyclamen Graecum -literally, Greek Cyclamen - , whose flowers look like butterflies with their wings closed, perched on top of bare stems.

If you find yourself rambling over the brushwood maquis of the northern Peloponnese, look beneath the high shrubs and occasional trees for the rare, beautiful deep purple crocus goulimyi. It keeps the lonely wanderer company from October till November. The longstemmed narcissus serotinus flowers from September to October. Wherever you stay in Greece in Autumn, take a walk away from the towns and enjoy the fall jewels you will find growing everywhere. Many of the flowers like partial shade, an escape from the intense, marvelous Greek sun, so look in the shade regions of trees, shrubs, and rocks.

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