Found interspersed among the rocky terrain of the Acropolis of Athens is a small plant that features a delicate pink flower, called the Micromeria acropolitana.
Measuring at just five to thirty cm (up to 12 inches) in height, it is easy to walk past this plant without even noticing it. Yet this modest flower, which is beloved by Greeks and botanists alike, has an interesting history itself.
This unassuming but lovely plant is completely unique — as it only grows on the Acropolis, the ancient hill of Athens, home to the Parthenon, the most iconic structure in the history of Western civilization.
The Micromeria acropolitana blooms every year from May until June, when its beautiful flowers emerge and dot the rocks of the Acropolis with notes of pink.
It is thought that the plant has lived on the ancient hill, which served as the center of ancient Athenian political, spiritual, and social life for centuries, since time immemorial.
MicromeriaAcropolitana was first collected in 1906 from the Acropolis, Athens it was considered extinct until its rediscovery in 2006,. It has survived in its original habitat, the natural rock of the hill #Acropolis #Greece#ClimateMW #MuseumWeek pic.twitter.com/5kaPYC1h77
— Maria Dimitrakarakou (@dimitrakarakou) May 15, 2020
Discovery of Micromeria acropolitana, the plant that only grows on the Acropolis
The plant was discovered in the summer of 1906 by two French botanists, Rene C.J.E. Maire and Marcel G.C. Petitmengin, and was included in their work “In Acropoli Athenarum.”
The Micromeria acropolitana was first classified scientifically just two years later by Austrian botanist Eugen von Halacsy, who described it as “Micromeria athenae,” and later changed it to its current name, “Micromeria acropolitana” in his text “Conspectus Florae Graecae.”
Oddly, the plant appeared to go extinct soon after it was discovered, but it reemerged on the Acropolis in 2006, 100 years after it was first found. It had been included in the Greek state’s official catalogue of protected plants, by order of a Presidential Decree, in 1981, during the period that it was thought to have been extinct.
The Greek biologist Grigoris Tsounis was the first to rediscover the supposedly extinct plant in 2006, with his son Lambros. The pair stumbled across a secluded area of the Acropolis where over 200 of the plants were thriving.
They returned to the spot for years to tend to the plants.
— Maria Dimitrakarakou (@dimitrakarakou) November 15, 2013
Three years later, in 2009, Danish biologist Dr. Kit Tan, professor at the University of Copenhagen, confirmed that the plants they were taking care of were in fact the famed Micromeria acropolitana.
This confirmation meant that the unique plant was indeed not extinct, and had remained thriving in its natural ecosystem, the Acropolis of Athens.
The location where the plants thrive has remained secret so as not to disrupt the sensitive flora. While the plant can be found across the Acropolis, this hidden spot is where the threatened Micromeria acropolitana flourishes undisturbed.