Preveli palms make a comeback
Joe Mason: May 2011
Fears for the future of the famous palm forest of Preveli, destroyed by fire in August 2010, are greatly exaggerated according to a top countryside expert. The historic palm forest of Preveli was reduced to ashes, along with a thousand hectares of forest and olive groves when fire broke out at Gianniou village, near Plakias.
But five months later the palms are showing signs of recovery and countryside expert Prof. Oliver Rackham claims fire is actually good for the trees, stimulating new growth.
A similar fire in 1981 was followed by a rise in the number and height of the forest palms
Prof. Rackham said: 'We now know that even the fiercest fire does not harm Cretan palm. Palms, like pines, burn not by misfortune but because they are adapted to promote fire as part of their way of life.
For millions of years they have caught fire from time to time, from lightning if nothing else, and have burnt up their less fire-adapted competitors.'
Now the professor says the forest should be left alone to recover naturally and warns against replanting with non-native palms. Previous attempts to replant fire-hit palm forests have had mixed results.
He fears that the arrival of the Red Palm Weevil poses a much greater threat. In recent years there has been a fashion for planting Canary Island and Californian palms which have brought in the deadly weevil.
He warned: 'Dead Canarian and Californian palms are now unpleasantly familiar in Herakleion and Knossos. It would be a real disaster if the insect were to become established at Preveli.
People should stop planting palms, especially near the Cretan Palm. Every newly planted palm-tree endangers existing palms near it, whether cultivated or wild.'
The Cretan Palm is native to the south-east Aegean and is a relic from the Tertiary period, at least 10 million years ago.
Preveli is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches in Crete, located on the central south coast of the island where the steep Kourtaliotiko Gorge meets the Libyan Sea a forming a cool lagoon and beach.
Palms and oleanders created a shady paradise forest. The Cretan palm tree known as Phoenix Theophrasti is a rare species which faces extinction.
The huge ecological and tourist value the palm forest in Preveli has prompted the Ministry of Environmental Energy to restore this important ecosystem.
A system for watering the trees has been installed and specialists have offered to take all measures necessary to assist the regeneration of the palm forest in Preveli.
Professor Oliver Rackham is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and an acknowledged authority on the British countryside. His books include The History of the Countryside (1986). He has also studied and published extensively on the ecology of Crete.
For more on the Preveli Palms see the Flowers of Crete website.