The Flora of Crete, influenced as they have been by climate and the lay of the land are of particular interest: of the 2,108 plants that grow there, 302 are endemics (found nowhere else in the world).
In the rural and agricultural landscape, vineyards, olive-groves and orange orchards dominate, whilst on the hills scrubland prevails – mainly phrygana (open scrubland with dwarf-plants, often spiny) and aromatic herbs, as well as the endemic plants and flowers, some of which – alas – are much endangered.
Forest ecosystems are rarer and mainly exist on the mountains. On the south flanks of Dicte, of Psiloritis, the Asterousia and White Mountains are still to be found the pine forests. In the central massifs there lorded it the forests of oak (Quercus coccifera) and the holm oak (Quercus ilex); in some places are forests of deciduous oak (Quercus makrolepis), and also small populations of the Theophrastus palm (at Vai, Preveli Lake, Aghios Nikitas etc).
Orchids are prolific. But above all, Crete is a paradise for aromatic herbs, found generally growing on the steep gorge sides.
The geomorphology and the diversity of the resultant landscape has also contributed significantly to the emergence and evolution of the Fauna.
The highest concentration of these are to be found in the mountains and gorges – where suitable climatic conditions prevail and the human presence is obviously of limited impact. Endemics are to be found in all species present: mammals, rodents, amphibians, reptiles – vertebrates and invertebrates alike. No mammal carnivores of significance are present – no wolves nor jackals. The nearest is the Wildcat (Felix silvestris cretensis) that hangs on in the Psiloritis area according to witness reports amongst the herders: it takes lambs and small kids, but its population is so small that it poses no threat.
Caves too are an extremely vulnerable ecosystem: apart from sundry vertebrates and invertebrates they are home to a significant variety of bats.
The mountainous areas and the gorges are of remarkable ornithological interest, because of their substantial populations and the variety of birds of prey that breed within their borders.
Falcon's voice, me to listen - Psarantonis
Along the length and breadth of Crete significant habitats exist for these winged predators to live and breed: the Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), the Tawny vulture (Gyps fulvus), the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetos fasciatus) and the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Breeding populations exist too of the Insular partridge (Alectoris chukar) and the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). In east Crete is situated the world’s largest colony of Eleonora’s falcon (Falco de Eleonora).
The National Park at Samaria is one of the richest ecosystems in Crete – as much for its flora as fauna: the most important species here is the Cretan goat (agrimi or kri-kri) which inhabits only this gorge.