One of the most characteristic habitats of the Mediterranean region is garigue, a lowland vegetation community of dry soils, composed largely of spiny or aromatic dwarf shrubs. In Greece these communities are known as phrygana and there are several variants, depending upon grazing pressure, the incidence of fires, exposure, soils and geology. In many respects they occupy the same successional position as heathlands do elsewhere in Europe.
Botanists will probably recognise several forms of phrygana on Thásos, but generally speaking the habitat can be classified into three main types. 'Eastern thorny garigue' is a type of phrygana consisting of short, cushion-forming, spiny aromatic shrubs on dry slopes. It is uncommon on Thásos and the only good example I have seen is at Evariocastro, the headland to the east of Thassos Town with the tiny chapel of Agion Apostolon. In early summer the small area around the chapel is spangled with the flowering cushions of typical phrygana plants, but this spectacle doesn't last long and drought and trampling reduce the coastal slope to dusty bare ground by mid summer. Other examples probably exist elsewhere on the island and I would be interested to hear of any information on other localities.
Adjacent to this low coastal phrygana, freed from trampling and probably less prone to drought, can be seen the second type of scrub community. 'Cistus garigue' is frequent around much of the island's lowland zone and is especially common in the northern half as an understorey in the conifer woods and old olive groves. Pink cistus Cistus creticus is the most abundant species but sage-leaved cistus C. salvifolius is also widespread. Other species of this community include prickly juniper Juniperus oxycedrus, Phoenician juniper Juniperus phoenicea, mock privet Phillyrea latifolia and Kermes oak Quercus coccifera. Good examples are frequent in many locations around the island, such as the slopes north of Skala Maries and along the south coast between Limenaria and Aliki. The southern phrygana has extensive areas with tree heath Erica manipuliflora as a dominant species and Spanish broom Spartium junceum is common.
The third form of phrygana, known as shiblyak, can be regarded as an intermediate stage in the development to maquis. This is a taller scrub community in which Kermes oak Quercus coccifera is usually common and species such as Christ thorn Paliurus spina-christi, mastic tree Pistacia lenticulus, Judas tree Cercis and chaste tree Vitex agnus-castus frequently occur. This vegetation type is found on abandoned terraces, neglected olive groves and undisturbed forest clearings but it is quite localised and patchy in distribution.
Maquis is a tall shrub community that presumably represents a phase in succession to secondary deciduous woodland. Pockets of maquis, composed of a variety of species depending on the degree of shade, soil moisture and geology, occur in many places around the island but some of the most extensive examples can be found in the valley between Prinos and Megalo Kazavitis (where cornelian cherry Cornus mas is a conspicuous component) and on the floodplain below Maries (dominated by oriental plane Platanus orientalis). A small but diverse example occurs amongst the conifers above the road at the western end of the Thassos Town by-pass. Here mastic tree, strawberry tree Arbutus unedo, holm oak Quercus ilex, Kermes oak and sallows Salix spp. grow amongst sparse Calabrian pines Pinus halepensis spp. brutia.
In general the lowland scrub habitats of Thásos are probably sufficiently abundant not to be regarded as under immediate threat, although the eastern thorny garigue is in poor condition if the example at Evariocastro is indeed its only location on the island. Of late there does also seem to be a tendency to reclaim neglected olive groves, often as a by-product of the construction of new apartments, and hence shiblyak must also have considerably declined in extent. Cistus garigue and maquis are common habitats on Thásos and the former is currently extending its range as it colonises lowland slopes cleared of conifers in the recent devastating summer fires.
Phrygana and maquis are widely distributed around the island, the map shows conspicuous examples where there is good structural and/or botanical diversity.