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Do it yourself

Sarakiniko is a part of the coast of the Aegean island of Milos famous for its white moonscape - the subject of many travel brochure photographs and remarkable for its beauty and the total lack of plant growth. Yet just a few metres further inland the usual coastal flora of thyme, Sarcopoterium spinosum and Erica manipuliflora etc is growing, each plant seemingly having found a hump of soil on the bare rock to grow into. The illogicality of this bothered me so I left the footpath to investigate the humps more closely. This is the do-it-yourself theory I developed.

As a seed catches in a crack of the soft rock and pushes its root downwards it throws up a matted growth of stiff stems and spiky leaves; the wind from the sea carries surface dust which is caught on the little mat and so the beginnings of the hump appear. More roots, more growth, more dust collection and the process continues. Plant growth is concentrated on the leeward side of the mound and on the windward side the gnarled stems and roots are exposed. Gradually seeds of other plants without this matting property, notable grasses, fall on the soil of the windward side and a little colony of plants is established. As more humps and colonies form, the rock surface between them is reduced and conditions are ready for proper topsoil. None of this happens in the most exposed parts but by the time we reach the car park there is nearly full plant cover.

In mid-September most of the mounds were still in summer dormancy but the heather was flowering and a brush against a thyme plant scented the air. The resistance and adaptability of Mediterranean plants is as always impressive.


The white rock of Sarakiniko


Humps


Heather and thyme from the windward side


Grasses colonising the humps


Erica manipuliflora in flower

 

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