The greenery that covers the “green on blue” island is in fact a largely man-made forest, the result of afforestation, or planting, of pines for shipbuilding many centuries ago. Prior to this accidental tinkering with the island’s ecology, the island had supported a mix of pine and deciduous trees, largely holm and kermes oak, but also managed plantations, usually small and domestic, of olive, almond, chestnut, walnut, plums, orange, lemon, apple, grapevine and mastic bushes. The seeding mechanisms of the pine - a gymnosperm, from the Greek for ‘naked seed’, which drops single seeds close to the parent, unlike the deciduous tree, which broadcasts seeds further as fruit or as wind-blown seeds - encouraged dense, close-packed growth, in effect crowding out the weaker deciduous trees, which would anyway have fared poorly in the island’s summer climate.

 

This effect - and the difference can be observed in comparison with its leafier neighbours of Alonnisos and Skiathos - led to perhaps eighty per cent of the island being covered by pine trees. Their numbers have been estimated at anywhere between five and ten million, but various international forestry models would suggest a median ‘guesstimate’ of seven or eight. Their abundance has obviously altered the island’s ecology, but largely for the good, not least in maintaining topsoil and the behaviour of the island’s limited natural water supply.

 

While both have diminished in recent centuries, olives and vines were part of the island’s ecology since it was first settled eight thousand years ago (and some sources suggest it may have been settled more than twenty thousand years earlier). Soft fruits, citrus and nuts would have also been imported to the island by settlers. Although some flora would have been accidental arrivals, such as the maquis, or scrub, that spreads in less manageable areas, most of the greenery is the result of human cultivation.