Flora and Fauna of the Mani

A large fast flying butterfly, separated from other fritillaries by its pointed wings and silver streaks on the undersides which can be viewed as it stops to feed on flowers such as Bramble. ©Keith Sharp

Greece has one of the richest wild flower populations in Europe with about 5000 species, half of which can be found in the Peloponnese. Many of these can be found in the Taygetus Mountains and the southern part of the peninsula that we will see on our walks. The Mani has two springs, the first starting in March to the end of April with displays of orchids, anemones, poppies, daisies and verbascum followed by a second spring in October heralding carpets of pink, yellow and cream crocuses, tiny cyclamens and sternbergia. For more information see Roger Marchant’s Flowers of the Mani. Our olive trees are famous, they say the harsher southern climate makes the tree work harder producing delicious fruit and unique tasting oil. The groves we walk through are carpeted with wild flowers as well as home to abundant insects and butterflies and in the Outer Mani there are woods of small Mediterranean oak, chestnut and walnut trees. Although more barren, yet no less spectacular, the south has endless smaller olive trees and hosts among its trees magical flowers.

Carpets of wild daisies. Spring brings a riot wild flowers in the olive groves near Kardamyli, in the Outer Mani, Messinia, Southern Greece. ©Pete Eastland

One of the many tortoises enjoying the summer in Kerry and Wendy's garden.

Cultivated trees includes figs, citrus and pomegranate. There are many wild animals. You will see wild tortoises some huge – 50 years old. Wendy and Kerry provide a sanctuary for smaller tortoises until they are large enough to be released as they are easy prey to predators, and they provide provide a safe place for hibernation for the larger ones. In the spring Wendy and Kerry rehydrate them before sending them on their way to munch through Spring’s wild flowers and grass. Other wildlife frequently seen are eagles (smaller than the north European ones), buzzards, owls, foxes, jackals, wild boar and endless fascinating lizards. The Mani is home to several snakes – Don’t worry, these much misunderstood creatures will scuttle away as soon as they hear you coming.

The peninsula is a haven for butterflies. Keith Sharp, butterfly and Mani enthusiast, has seen many species of which the following are but a few: Painted Lady, Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Swallowtail, Plain Tiger (especially during September and October), Marbled White, Clouded Yellow, Brown Angus, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Gatekeeper, Grayling and Fritillaries, including Silver-Washed and Dark Green. Plenty to distract you on our walks. For the enthusiast we recommend Collins Butterfly Guide to butterflies of Britain and Europe, by Tom Tolman and Richard Lewington.

As the sea is only fished by small local boats there are plenty of fish to see and has many types of coral. It is home to the protected rare Mediterranean monk seal, now only 500 left and whales traverse the two mile deep channel out at sea. Occasionally, closer to shore, we might catch a glimpse of a pod of dolphins and sea turtles lay their eggs on the sandier beaches and can be seen nibbling seaweed growing in the shallows.

Monk-seal pup (secret location)