In April the snow on the high peaks of the Lefka Ori mountains in western Crete is usually receding as warmer weather arrives. This snow is often stained a pale reddish brown from the wind blown dust of the Libyan Sahara. The locals still refer to these dusty winds as Gaddafi’s breath. Omalos is a small farming community on a 1500metre high, flat, fertile plain midway between Chania on the north coast and Chora Sfakion on the south. Apple trees delineate the small fields of wheat, potatoes and okra. Small round stone houses called mitata are used for making the local graviera cheese and also a softer creamy version of feta. Rickety fences protect the crops from flocks of sheep and goats which roam freely. It is because of the protection afforded by these fences that so many of Crete’s profuse wild flowers are found at the edges of these crops.
Crete is a botanist’s dream, especially in April, with around two thousand flowering plant species. Many of the plants are spiky such as spiny burnet and others are poisonous such as sea squill and oleander and these the sheep and goats avoid. Many other plants grow on the steep limestone screes and cliffs and their inaccessibility affords protection. By looking carefully around some of the field edges of the Omalos plain you will almost certainly encounter one of the five species of wild tulip to be found on Crete. It is here that you may find clumps of the endemic wild variety called tulipa bakeri. About half the size of the shop bought varieties we are used to they are a pinky lilac shade with delicate pointed petals. In the strong breezes they dance around with a natural gestural eloquence that all tulips possess.