Chios could almost be two islands, its south and north parts are so different in terms of geography and botany. Mountains and rocky soil prevail in the northern half, with pine woods, cypresses and plane trees tucked amongst them, as well as pasturelands where thyme, oregano and sage may also be found. Southern Chios is noted for the cultivation of the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus var. Chios). Although this evergreen shrub is common to the Mediterranean, only in southern Chios does the lentisk produce a precious resin with multiple uses that is collected and processed as mastiha; this gummy substance is found in commercially viable amounts nowhere else in the world. In the centre of the island, not far from the main town and port, lies the Kambos, a flat area (as the name implies) with plentiful water and fertile soil, known for its citrus groves.
Chios is famous internationally for its wealth of wild flowers, including the extraordinary variety of its orchids – 92 species in all – which are scattered round the island, but also for its wild tulips (called lalades by the locals), which each year – around the end of March – blanket a district in central Chios near the village of Tholopotami.
Nevertheless, don’t be fooled into thinking you can discover these tulips and orchids on your own. I have had the good fortune to have an old friend, Giorgos Misetzis, as guide, who from his base at Spitakia, a charming small hotel he runs at Avgonyma, organizes excursions and nature walks.
The tulips of Chios belong to the genus Tulipa, which extends from Central Asia to the south-central and eastern regions of Europe (there are more than 100 species, 14 of which may be found in Greece).
The name lalades comes from lalepou, which is the Persian word for tulip; it entered the Chiot dialect from the Turkish. The tulips which redden the valleys of Chios are Tulipa agenensis, while there are also three other species, one of which has striped red and white flowers, but of the four types only T. Undulatifolia is endemic to Chios.
Of the 250 species of orchids that exist in Europe, 92 have been spotted in the spring on Chios.