A Flora and Fauna of Symi

A personal guide to the wildlife of Symi and beyond

header photo

Land Use & Habitats on Symi

Habitats are dependent on soil types, rainfall and average temperatures. However man has been the greatest influence over much of the region in the last 2000 years by cultivating the land so that very little of the true Mediterranean forest or climax vegetation remains. In place of the forests are derived environments or vegetation types depending on man's intervention in any given area. Apart from cultivated areas, habitation, terracing, groves and orchards there are two types of environment on Symi. Maquis and garrigue (phrygana).

According to The Hellenic Ornithological Society the land on Symi is used in the following way:


5% artificial landscapes (arable land; urban and industrial areas; perennial crops, orchards and groves; ruderal land)

25% coastline & rocky areas (rock stacks and islets; scree and boulders; sea cliffs and rocky shores)

20% native coniferous woodland

55% shrubland (sclerophyllous scrub, garrigue and maquis)

5% marine area (open sea; sea inlets and coastal features

Land use

Agriculture (80%), fisheries/aquaculture (5%), military, not utilised (10%), tourism/recreation (10%)

(Nb: I'm assuming that land habitats overlap also the fisheries ceased to exist about 5 years ago)


Garrigue consists of an open community of dwarf evergreen shrubs rarely reaching more than 0.5 meter in height. In Greece it is called Phrygana and is very common across Symi in various forms. Often characterized here by many small aromatic colourful shrubs and where the land is more open allows a great variety smaller herbs, annuals, orchids and bulbs. Overgrazing is all too common and  the result is often bare open places with thin soils, sparse grass and drought resistant, unpalatable or poisonous bulbous plants such as the common asphodel.                                                                                                  

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre described garrigue as "discontinuous bushy associations of the Mediterranean calcareous plateaus, often composed of kermes oak, lavender, thyme, and white cistus. There may be a few isolated trees."                                                                                                  

Aside from dense thickets of kermes oak that punctuate the garrigue landscape, juniper and stunted holm oaks are the typical trees; aromatic lime-tolerant shrubs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme and artemisia are common garrigue plants.                                                                                             

The Aromatic oils and soluble monoterpenes of such herbs leached into garrigue soils from leaf litter have been connected with plant allelopathy, which asserts the dominance of a plant over its neighbours, especially annuals, and contributes to the characteristic open spacing and restricted flora in a garrigue. The fines (charred wood and smoke residues, or charcoal dust) of periodic brush fires also have had an effect on the patterning and composition of the garrigues. Clear summer skies and intense solar radiation have induced the evolution of protective physiologies: the familiar glaucous, grayish-green of garrigue landscapes is produced by the protective white hairs and light-diffusing, pebbled surfaces of many leaves typical of garrigue plants.


Maquis consists of a dense community of small evergreen shrubs and trees, rarely reaching more than three metres in height. The best example on Symi is on the road to Nimborio where grazing by sheep and goats has been excluded and there is much regeneration on the land. There is a clear line on the hillside where a fence marks grazing areas on one side and regenerated growth on the other. Also the island of Seskli to the south of Symi exhibits a reasonably well developed example of maquis. The island is owned by the monastery of Panormitis and grazing by sheep is restricted. Maquis usually exists from coastal areas to about 600 metres  and has remarkable powers of recovery from burning, providing it is not cultivated by man or over grazed. Typical plants such as arbutus unedo and erica arborea have good powers of rejuvenation. If the tops of these plants are destroyed new growth will spring up from the roots. Higher up the slopes away from evergreen trees and shrubs kermes oak and box will predominate.

Cypress Woodlands

Cypress woodlands cover about a fifth of Symi and are considered a naturalized plant in the south Aegean. On Symi the cypress tree grows from sea level to the tops of the mountains and in places can be seen clinging to the sides of precipitous slopes such as in Nanou bay on the east side of the island. There are two varieties, the horizontalis variety being more common and forming the greater part of the woodlands. These trees are typically broad and can often cover large areas of ground and will often be used to provide shade for church yards. A good example of this is at Roukaniotis monastery where a large cypress covers a circular seated area. The tall or pyramidal variety is now only seen around religious monuments and gardens or used as a windbreak for more delicate plants. In classical times the pyramidal cypress was associated with mourning and death due to its inability to regenerate if pruned or cut back too hard.

The cypress is a coniferous evergreen with a straight trunk and can grow up to 30 metres high. It is supposed to be very long lived with some specimens being over a thousand years old. In the past the tree was in high demand for boat and house building as well as for more detailed work including doors, windows and so on. The tree gives off a strong fragrance similar to juniper and citron and acts as a natural insect repellent. This does not seem to put off the island's population of coal tits who seem to feed off the kernels from the pine cones.

Pine Woodland

Pinus Brutia or the Turkish or Calabrian pine is considered a native tree to the Greek islands of the Aegean. Here on Symi it forms small woodlands across the island often near the coast and sometimes overlapping with cypress woodlands of which there is a good example on the south of Symi beyond Panormitis monastery. The tree is a close relative of the allepo pine, the resin of which gives retsina its flavour. The pine will grow on very poor soils and is known for its ability to resist droughts and here on Symi where the rainfall is about 20" to 30" a year with no rain for 8 months this is a strong point in its favour. Pinus brutia also plays host to a sap sucking aphid which produces large amounts of sugar. Honey bees collect this secretion and the honey, reputedly, is much sort after for its medicinal properties! This honey is known as "Pine Honey" (or "pitys " to the ancient Greeks).

Freshwater Pond

A rare temporary pond (part frozen) on Symi.

Marine Environment

This website gives lots of information on  cetaceans  http://www.cetaceanalliance.org/species.htm (dolphins, whales, porpoises etc)

However I will need lots of help from you to fill this spot!