The island is rich on beautiful flora. 140 plant species in Cyprus are endemic which means that they grow only on the island. Most of them can be found in Troodos and Kyrenia mountains. I bet you’ve heard about carob trees and have seen olives growing everywhere. And for what it’s worth, let’s talk about something else. Here are 5 plants you probably did not know about.
A strawberry tree, as Cypriots proudly call it, is a very interesting kind of plants. Have you started to imagine some tasty treats? Strawberries that are growing on the trees. Perfection. No more crawling around on all four searching for red berries. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but it’s not how it works. In reality the fruit has nothing even remotely similar to those berries, so no one mistakes it for a strawberry. Another note: if you would google it first and then compare to what you see in Cyprus, it would seem to be two different plants for sure. The proper name for it is the Greek strawberry tree, not the Himalayan one Google will find for you.
Description and habitat: a small evergreen tree (not higher then 5 meters) with thick leaves is growing mainly in the Troodos mountains. Fun fact: the higher up in the mountains it grows, the taller is the tree and the bigger are its fruits and near mountain’s foot it’s not even a tree but a bush.
As a rule the life cycle of a strawberry tree is about 50 years but there are two trees in the world that reach the age of more than 1000 years. Their trunks are about 4 meters in diameter each.
Edible or not: yes, you can taste its berries but they are neither juicy nor super rich on taste. Few berries are more than enough to tick that type of experience in your notebook as completed. Berries are sweet sour with a mealy fruit flesh. Probably it’s ok for some kind of infusions but I myself have never seen Cypriots using these berries as an ingredient for meals or beverages. Google also has nothing to say about it.
What else to do with it: simply enjoy how it looks. But not any season suits for that purpose. In the summer, spring and winter it’s just a common tree but in autumn it could show you something interesting. In Russian this tree is commonly called “a shameless maid” because of one feature: when all the trees are shedding their leaves the strawberry tree sheds also its bark which is red in colour. At this time all the ground under these trees is covered by its blood-red pieces. Many strawberry trees growing near to each other surely could turn an ordinary autumn forest into an enchanted one from the fairy tales. Searching for a certain place to shoot a movie about elves, dwarves and fairies? Check out strawberry tree groves!
The trunk itself stays “naked” what makes the whole scenery even more special.
If you’ve had enough of just staring at it you can use it for some practical purposes. Its leaves are used for leather tanning and wood for carving. The only thing you should keep in mind that it’s strictly forbidden to cut trees without permission in Cyprus. The penalty is quite severe: 5 000 Euros or even a prison sentence.
Also known as Indian fig opuntia and Cactus pear. This is the most plentiful kind of cacti in Cyprus.
Description and habitat: this species can be found in great numbers around the island except highlands where the climate is too cold for it. Mature cactus pear is quite a big plant with a thick stem similar to common tree trunk.
Edible or not: any self-respecting supermarket in Mexico can offer you a basket full of opuntia stems (called cladodes). They are sliced into strips and fried on a pan like a steak or put into a salad. Cyprus will go toe-to-toe with Mexico. Here you can taste opuntia fruits (not stems as in Mexico) when it’s the season. Another name for it — Indian fig was given because of the shape of fruits that are sweet and juicy with purple orange flesh containing many tiny hard seeds. I cannot move my tongue to tell it tastes fantastic or even better than mango. However this fruit is popular and sold everywhere at the food stores. At the end of summer you can get it for free — just find a cactus to pick up, better not that one growing in somebodies garden, ok?
Of course you should remember you couldn’t conquer it with your bare hands. Even if you hold the fruit with your fingertips by the parts with no spines, as you might think, it would be an epic fail. You and the spines will be inseparable since now and for a few days. It’s nearly impossible to get rid of them but the feeling is rather uncomfortable than painful and will pass when the spines fall off.
What else to do with it: opuntia is a perfect hedge: prickly, huge and easy to care for. What more could you want, really? No thief will risk climbing over it.
The fruits are also used for medical purposes. The drug stores sell prickly pear extract that works like a diet pills. It is also used to enhance the skin, block any inflammation processes and as a treatment of osteoporosis.
Once upon a time when the climate in Cyprus was different the Cyprus cedars grew all over the island and were logged and exported in Greece and other countries. Sadly those days are long gone but cedars could still be found in the mountains. There is even the cedar valley in the heart of the island, not far from Stavros tis Psokas village. Despite being a remote area that is far from the cities, this valley is worth your visit. Fabulous scenery and pine-scented air will be your reward for your long journey.
Description and habitat: Cyprus cedar grows widely in the mountains of the island at a height of above 400 meters. It looks different from other kinds of cedar trees like Siberian pine for example.
This Cyprus endemic tree is way smaller than its Himalayan or Atlas relatives. The tree looks bushy because of its short needles, that’s why the Latin name for it is Cerdus brevifolia what literally means “short-leafed”.
Edible or not: can and must be consumed! Cedar pine nuts are delicious. I don’t think it’s possible in Cyprus to pick up a whole bag of pinecones, but why not try?
What else to do with it: except admiring its look, breathing the fresh air under its vault and eating a few nuts — nothing else. Cedar wood is considered to be the best building material in the world because of its strength, durability and antiseptic properties, but this particular kind of cedar is not growing in quantities enough for commercial logging.
A wide range of different berries is definitely not the thing Cyprus is rich for. Rosehip, strawberry tree fruits and wild cherry are almost the only berries you can find here. Nothing surprisingly new, right? Let me introduce to you the least known of the Cyprus berries. It might make you think of a rowanberry but it has its own peculiarities.
Description and habitat: this species is also in love with heights and won’t come down below 500 meters. Most of Cyprus whitebeam trees are growing near mount Olympus’ peak and like a strawberry tree find joy in turning autumn forest into a beautiful patchwork quilts with its brown, red, green and yellow leaves. Together with its scarlet berries twice the size of a common rowanberry they make the view of endless mountains and meadows even more scenic. May be the whitebeam trees like it too, who knows.
Edible or not: yes, it is, but it’s a dubious pleasure. The berries don’t taste nice because of mealy flesh. You can eat one or two out of curiosity if you want.
What else to do with it: Cypriots often plant whitebeam in their gardens because of its beautiful fall colours.
This plant has become a visiting card of Cyprus. Every tourist has seen it at least once, but I would bet money that no one from him or her knows its name.
Description and habitat: bougainvillea is your choice when there are not enough colours in your life. It’s also the number one plant in let’s-take-a-selfie-with-those-flowers cathegory. Thanks to its huge size and bright colour palette bougainvillea bush looks like a living firework. It’s a very simple plant by the way. You can see it in every corner of the island: along the highways and roads, in the gardens and in all the cities. Bougainvillea in Cyprus is as common as olive trees. Its colourful parts are in fact a kind of leaves. The real flowers are very tiny and not easily noticed among the leaves.
Edible or not: I guess you already figured that out by yourselves.
What else to do with it: flowers add colours and joy to our lives and make this world more beautiful. And bougainvillea is one of them trying to brighten the days in Cyprus with its look.