An old oriental proverb says that ‘even the biggest journey begins with the first step.’ Micromeria acropolitana, an endemic plant on the hill of the Acropolis of Athens, knowing this proverb before it was even formulated, actually began its long journey through a few squares of land, decisively making this first critical step.
And making the first step exclusively on the Acropolis hill of Athens, long before, but too much before the emergence of classical ancient Greek civilization, continues to travel to this day’s long journey through time and history.
But not without going through the drama.
“Acropolis seems to have been deprived of at least one of its species, strictly endemic, that is of a unique species of this area only,” wrote in 1998, former professor of botany at the University of Athens, Artemis Yannitsaros, in his work ‘The flora of the archaeological sites of Greece ‘. “This is Micromeria acropolitana or Satureja acropolitana (Halácsy) Greuter & Burdet, of the Labiatae family, which must be considered today as a species disappeared not only from the Hellenic but from the global flora”.
In August 31, 2003, Theophanis Konstantinidis, professor of Systematic Botany at the University of Athens, wrote in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini: ‘The mysterious Micromeria acropolitana (Micromeria of Acropolis) is a small and humble perennial species growing exclusively in the rock of Acropolis, which, for about a century now, nobody has ever seen again, neither in the rock of Acropolis nor anywhere else’.
Thus, despite the extensive researches carried out in the region by Paterson in 1979, Sarlis in 1994, Zervou & Yannitsaros in 1999, and by other researchers, Micromeria of the Acropolis, seemed to occupy a position between Mammoths and Dinosaurs.
The biologist Grigoris Tsounis, along with his son Lambros, for several years investigated the flora and fauna around the Acropolis hill. The fruit of his many years of research was the book ‘Around the Acropolis’, released in 2004.
But Tsouni’s research in the area did not stop with the publication of the book. So, in 2006, he seemed to find something unique: about 200 plants that all seemed to be the allegedly extinct species of Micromeria acropolitana. For about three years, Grigoris Tsounis with his son attended this small population. In the spring of 2009, Tsunis was now confident that this was the case, but that had to be proved.
In early May 2009 he contacted the botanist Dr. Kit Tan, from the University of Copenhagen. On June 16, 2009, at 8.07 am, Dr. Kit Tan sent them congratulations on the discovery by e-mail.
Micromeria acropolitana has never left the Acropolis of Athens.
Three persons are involved in the discovery and description of Micromeria acropolitana: the French botanists René C.J.E. Maire (1876-1949) and Marcel G.C. Petitmengin (1881-1908) and Eugen von Halácsy (1842-1913), who was an Austrian physician and botanist of Hungarian descent.
The first two carried out two research missions in Greece in 1904 and 1906. In the latter, they identified and collected Micromeria acropolitana from the Acropolis hill. However, the naming and description of the new species made by Eugen von Halácsy, who first thought to name the species M. athenae n. sp. (Fig. 3) but laterchose acropolitana as a more suitable epithet.
Micromeria acropolitana is a herbaceous plant of 5-20 cm height. It is growing in rocky slots, as well as among the stones of the Acropolis wall in sunny places. Its flowers are pink and appear in May to June.
The population remains stable and the species is protected by Presidential Decree 67 for protection of wild flora and fauna) as from 30 January 1981 – if that may mean anything.
Species: M. acropolitana
Micromeria acropolitana Halássy
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Photos of the habitat and plant of Micromeria acropolitana