Flora and vegetation
The presence of people from antiquity has shaped the current vegetation, dominated by shrubs and sparse scrub, alternating with traditional crops. Although this kind of vegetation is not particularly impressive, it is of great biological interest, because of its diversity. The total number of recorded species of plants on the island is 185, 32 of which are regarded as specially important, since they are either endemic, rare or endangered. Those figures, however, are almost certainly an underestimate because no systematic survey has been undertaken.
In the coastal area, among rocks above the sea and on exposed slopes, you may find shrubs such as the Spiny Knapweed (Centaurea spinosa) and Spiny Chicory (Cichorium spinosum) while the Rockrose (Cistus), a heather species (Erica manipuliflora), the Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and, less commonly the Thorny Burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum) cover much of the interior. Sometimes, the shrubs form a more or less dense scrub (“garrigue”) with juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) and mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). Denser thickets (“maquis”), where juniper and mastic tree dominate, together with wild olives (Olea europaea), cover the gullies, while the natural vegetation invades abandoned terraces as well.
On Polyaigos the only human intervention is through the grazing of sheep and goats, which are relatively few in number. That is why the vegetation is characterized by the presence of denser thickets of the same species, together with occasional shrubs of strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) and Phillyrea media, which occur in the numerous gullies running down from the mountains to the coast.
On the hillsides maquis alternates with garrigue on the rockier slopes where the vegetation cover is sparser. The broken terrain with the many small valleys and gullies creates a variety of environments supporting a corresponding variety of species. In less favourable areas the ground cover is heath, cistus, spiny knapweed and helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum).
The rugged coasts of the two islands have their own characteristic species, such as the Amaranthus (Limonium) and the Shrubby Orache (Atriplex halimus). A variety of plant species occur in the small wetlands, on the sandy beaches and at the mouths of streams.
A number of aromatic plants, such as the caper, the fennel, the thyme, the savory, the rosemary and many more, which are used in the local cuisine, are found on the two islands. In the autumn and winter, local people collect mushrooms and wild herbs, and use them as supplements in many traditional dishes. Finally, many species are known for their healing qualities and are still used today for medical purposes.