The biggest native species on the island of Milos is the Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). In the past, this must have been widely spread throughout the island. However, continuous logging and land clearing in order to create farms and grazing lands, has restricted its presence in a gully, where it still forms beautiful stands of trees, up to 20 m. high, with a remarkable regeneration.
Other conifer species include the Phoenicean juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) and the Juniperus macrocarpa appearing in the form of shrubs or small trees up to 10, and rarely 12 m. high. At many sites, they form dense clamps.
Large populations of all the above-mentioned arboraceous species are found in western, central and southern Milos, while smaller populations grow in northern and eastern Milos.
We should mention here the unusual fact that there are not any self-sown pines (Pinus sp.) on the Cyclades Islands at all, and consequently neither on Milos.
The kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), typical species of the Eumediterranean vegetation zone, has been restricted to secluded areas, because of logging, land-clearing through fires and overgrazing, and it rarely forms dense clamps. Its height reaches 10 m. in some sites.
Phillyrea latifolia, also a typical Mediterranean species, forms extended stands, mixed with olive (Olea europaea var sylvestris), carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), phoenicean juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), almond-leaved pear (Pyrus amygdaliformis), especially on the northern part of Chalakas mountain. However, these stands have also been heavily degraded by continuous logging, overgrazing and fires.
Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) grows in the more moist sites. It forms dense stands and, in certain locations, it reaches 12 m. in height. In such moist sites, we come across the following shrubs, either in stands or not: oleander (Nerium oleander), common myrtle (Myrtus communis) and chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).
The most widely spread and typical plant species on the island of Milos is the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). It grows everywhere, either forming short bushes creeping on the eroded soil, or forming small trees, up to 3 m. high. It also grows under all the above-mentioned plant species, as a kind of understorey vegetation (a term used to describe low – lying vegetation under 3-4 meters high).
Phrygana formations are characterized by their dominant species. On Milos, the most common types of brushwood is the cistus (Cistus creticus, Cistus salvifolius), the thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), Erica manipuliflora and the thyme (Coridothymus capitatus).
These plants are always found together with other plants, such as Genista acanthoclada, or the hairy thorny broom (Calycotome villosa), Rhamnus lycioides, Centaurea spinosa, the aromatic satureia (Satureja thymbra), the French lavender (Lavandula stoechas), the three-leaved sage (Salvia triloba), the jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), the wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and many others.
Bulbs & Grasses
Among the brushwood one can see small attractive bulbous plants. Some of them flower in autumn, after the first rainfalls, while others flower in spring, adding beautiful brushstrokes of color to the landscape of Milos. Such plants are Narcissus serotinus, Crocus tournefortii, Gynandriris sisyrinchium, the field gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus) and a large variety of orchid species (Ophrys sp., Orchis sp., Serapias sp., etc.). There are also numerous annual grasses, such as Aegilops comosa, the winter wild oat (Avena sterilis), Brachypodium sp., Briza media and various legumes, such as the vetches (Vicia sp.), peas (Lathyrus sp.), the medicks (Medicago sp.), clovers (Trifolium sp.), and the sainfoins (Onobrychis sp.).
Meadows and abandoned fields have an especially rich flora. Common poppies (Papaver rhoeas), crown daisies and corn marigold (Chrysanthemum coronarium and Chrysanthemum segetum), the spanish oyster plant (Scolymus hispanicus), windflowers like the crown anemone (Anemone coronaria), the salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) and many others. Finally, the cape sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae), arrived to Milos from South Africa at the beginning of the last century, is well adapted to the local environmental conditions and it is considered as an indigenous species by the local people
Resistant to salinity
The plants growing in areas strongly influenced by the sea, are those that can withstand salinity.
Tamarisk (Tamarix gallica) is such a species, a small tree which can reach 7 m. in height. On practically all the beaches of the island one comes across the shrubby orache (Atriplex halimus), a very characteristic bush with blue-green leaves, as well as the common rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum). On some maritime rocks one may also come across some rare species such as Dianthus fruticosus and Convolvulus oleifolius.
Lily of Plathiena
The sea lily (Pancratium maritimum) deserves special mention. This pretty bulbous plant, which belongs to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), used to be prevalent on coastal sandy areas where dune formations were present.
The Sea daffodil has many names, such as the Faliro Lily, Sand Lily and here in Milos, it is known as the Lily of Plathiena. Blossoming begins in late July and ends early September. The flowers are big, white and have a pleasing, exotic and very subtle lily scent. From late May until bloom, the bulb hides deeply buried in the sand. Its black, lightweight seeds can float in the sea for long periods. By autumn, the currents will carry them a long distance eventually placing them on another beach to continue germinating. In the past, it was present in all sandy beaches of Milos. Unfortunately the rapid growth on the coastal areas all around the Mediterranean and Greece throughout the last 50 years has altered the ecosystem of the Sea lily and today this species is threatened with extinction. So if you visit Milos in the summer, and are lucky enough to come across this ancient plant on one of the island’s beaches, admire it, smell it, take pictures of it, but please do not cut it, nor dig it up.
Hanging and climbing plants
Plants that grow on cliffs and hang downwards are characteristic of the island’s vegetation. These are the caper (Capparis spinosa) and the Ephedra foeminea. Another characteristic group consists of climbing plants such as the common smilax (Smilax aspera), the etruscan honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca) and the virgin’s bower (Clematis cirrhosa).