Mount Ossa - Greece

Allan Robinson , UK

 

 

To the south east of Greece’s famous Mount Olympus lies a smaller mountain known either as Mount Ossa or Kissavos  (Kissavos Oros).  The summit, Profitis Ilias, is just under two thousand metres, approximately one thousand metres lower than its gigantic neighbour. Despite the fact it does not manage to reach 2000 metres by a whisker or two, it is well worth a visit.

 

Ossa can be reached either by driving along the coast of the Thermaikos Gulf and turning inland at Stomio or by using the E75 which joins Thessaloniki to Athens , then leaving the fast road and heading for the village of Spilia on the lower slopes of the mountain. Both roads join up just below the Mountain Refuge, which sits at an altitude of 1604 metres. Then you walk and climb, there are so many different plants, birds and butterflies to appreciate that you hardly notice gaining altitude until the main ridge comes into view. This ridge will lead you to the summit.  

 

 

Along the ridge, Geranium subcaulescens grows amongst Astragalus angustifolius

   Geranium subcaulescens was in flower from the moment we left the area of the Refuge and was still a common sight on arrival at the ridge, (1800 metres, give or take a little). At first glance I didn’t recognise the species, thinking it was something close to G. macrostylum due to the rather small pale pink flowers. As soon as some leaves were spotted amongst the dense vegetation, I realised we had found a small flowered race of G. subcaulescens. In some cases they were just the size of a well grown flower of Erodium x variabile. Although interesting, they were far from the stunning, attractive forms we have found in other areas of Greece. There was a percentage of Geraniums with reasonable sized flowers and amongst these many pale pink forms could be found, often with interesting veining. None of the Ossa plants were comparable to the large flowered subcaulescens amongst last year’s (2014) discoveries on Mount Tymfristos further to the west.

 

 

   Once on the ridge we noted a few very rocky, scree-like areas above us and quickly made our way towards them. On reaching the first rocky zone, Erodium absinthoides was spotted almost immediately. Their foliage varied from almost grey through grey-green to bright green ferny leaves, in all, there were about fifty individual plants in the colony. The disappointment was that only one plant had a single flower showing, this was mid pink and looking around, any seed that had formed earlier was gone. So we still have no idea how variable the flower colour can be with the Greek form of this species. Our visit was during the last week of June and from what we observed, flowering was probably much earlier during May. As far as I can ascertain, this is the only mountain in Greece where Erodium absinthoides occurs, roughly at an altitude of 1800 – 1850 metres. Old books give varying guesses at the distribution of Greek Erodiums but from my experience, little is reliably true. I tend to trust individual reports made by enthusiasts on the Internet, coupled with the odd photograph, then there is enough of a basis to make your own search.

The habitat of Erodium absinthoides, a very steep limestone scree at over 1800 metres

 

The only Erodium absinthoides to be in flower at the end of June 2015


   Our first attempt to ascend Ossa was abandoned due to thick cloud enveloping the upper part of the mountain. The next attempt was made on a very sunny day on the coast but cloud constantly threatened our presence near the summit. As we descended from the mountain, cloud started to envelop the areas we had been searching. We had been lucky as trying to navigate in thick mist high up near the summit could have been treacherous to say the least.

Working our way round many Greek Mountains over the years, we’ve often wondered why there are so many points marked as “Profitis Ilias or Profitis Elias”. After noticing the summit of Mount Ossa bears the same title, I decided to investigate this commonly used mountain place name and I can offer a very simplified explanation below.

Initially, prior to Christianity being adopted, one of the Greek Gods was Helios, the God who was the personification of the sun. When worshipping Helios, it was thought that climbing to the highest point on a mountain would ensure being heard. As time went on, the Prophet Elijah was substituted for Helios, taking the Greek Form, Profitis Ilias or Elias. The term Profitis Ilias indicates that a shrine will be found on the summit. Where space is available, a small church / chapel may be constructed nearby but this is not the norm from our experience.

Decades ago, when I first started driving around Greece, road signs were solely in Greek, long before the EU had others installed that translated place names into something tourists could easily understand. One frequently signposted Ferry Port was Igoumenitsa on the North West coast , the first letter of which when using the Greek alphabet, is H, ( Greek spelling : Ηγουμενίτσα). When pronouncing this Greek letter it can be an E or an I sound, so with the Greek Elijah ( Hλίας) we have the choice of Elias or Ilias.

So in order to make sense of the term “Profitis Ilias”, it would seem that the mountain in question should be quoted too, otherwise it is impossible to know the location. If the mountain is large enough, there can be more than one point used for worship as long as they are considered to be at a suitable altitude.

In the Alpine Garden Society’s “Encyclopaedia of Alpines”, the Greek Form of Erodium absinthoides is stated as being Erodium absinthoides subspecies elatum. When the online “Plant List” is consulted, subspecies elatum just appears as a synonym and the mention of “elatum” has been rescinded.

However, there are four valid subspecies given in the Plant List which are armenum, balcanicum, haradjianii and latifolium. The source of balcanicum is given as Jugoslavia, although there is no mention of which modern republic / state this refers to. The area around Lake Van in Eastern Turkey going eastward into Armenia seems to be the home of armenum .       Go to :

http://www.vanherbaryum.yyu.edu.tr/flora/famgenustur/gera/erodium/ar/index.htm

for photos of this subspecies, they will enlarge when clicked on.

The remaining two occur in Turkey , haradjianii  is from the Amanus Mountains in the south and latifolia is from the Trabzon area in the north – east, bordering the Black Sea .

The Plant List has many contributors, Kew , Edinburgh BG, Missouri BG and the New York BG are some, the International Plant Name Index is another important source of information, the full list is mentioned on the “Plant List” website.

Allan Robinson, Sutton Bridge , The Fens, England,    October 2015

 

 

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