Threatened Species of the Week: The Cretan Orchid

by Lucy Hagger


You may have noticed that this week’s threatened species is very different to all others I have chosen; it is a plant. Generally when people think about threatened species the first images that come to mind are animals like tigers, pandas and rhinos. I imagine an incredibly small proportion of people would think of for example, a plant or a fungus.

Although an enormous number of non-animal species are at risk of extinction they receive a disproportionately small amount of media coverage and attention. So I thought that this would be a good platform on which to expose a few of these relatively ignored threatened species.

The Cretan orchid (Orchis sitiaca) is endemic to the small Greek island of Crete. The orchid mainly grows on slightly acidic to alkaline soils in the central and eastern mountains of the island.

This area over which they are found is already small and is becoming smaller with the increasing threats of habitat loss. The grasslands are no longer being grazed to maintain them and are therefore developing into more shrub/ forest land; a habitat unsuitable for the Cretan orchid.

Another threat to these orchids is tourism. Crete is one of the most popular Greek islands and with more people comes more picking and more trampling. Although people are encouraged not to pick these orchids, their beautiful appearance can commonly be too tempting for some.

Currently no figure has been estimated for the population size of the Cretan orchid, but due to its already small range and the threats facing it, the IUCN Red List criteria have classed the Cretan orchid as endangered. Without populations figures it cannot be determined whether the population is increasing or in decline; however it is incredibly likely that the latter is the case.

All orchids are protected under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and this means that certain actions are recommended to ensure their protection. These actions include habitat protection, fencing vulnerable sites, raising public awareness and monitoring and surveillance programmes.

These actions can be effective, but with already small and fragmented populations it can be extremely difficult and expensive to carry out; and usually the required funding is not available.

This species of orchid is predicted to suffer increased intensity of threats over the coming years. Although there are actions in place to protect the Cretan orchid and others like it, they are still at risk of extinction. So next time you see a pretty flower when you’re wandering about resist that temptation to pick it out of the ground, you never know how precious it could really be.

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