Cretan zelkova (Zelkova abelicea)

Cretan zelkova tree
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Cretan zelkova fact file

Cretan zelkova description

GenusZelkova (1)

The Cretan zelkova (Zelkova abelica) is a small to medium-sized tree (1), which is strongly branched (3), creating an expansive, bushy crown of leaves that extends down close to the ground. The small green leaves have rounded, serrated edges (4), and the tree’s petite flowers are scented (5).

Height: 3-5 m (2)

Cretan zelkova biology

Zelkova species have male and hermaphrodite flowers, which have both male and female reproductive organs (2). Since the flowers of the Cretan zelkova are scented, pollination is thought to be performed by insects, attracted by the scent. The fruit of trees belonging to the Ulmaceae family vary, and include nuts, samaras and drupes, all containing a single seed (7). The Cretan zelkova is known to be capable of suckering, a form of propagation where new shoots at the base or below ground grow out from the parent plant to produce an individual that is a clone of the parent (1).


Cretan zelkova range

The Cretan zelkova is endemic to the Greek island of Crete. Found in small numbers in 15 to 20 localities on the three main mountain massifs, particularly at the southeast corner of the Omalós Plain (1).


Cretan zelkova habitat

The Cretan zelkova is found on rocky mountain slopes (2), where the species dominates matorral habitat (areas of woody plants, shrubs or trees) (6).


Cretan zelkova status

The Cretan zelkova is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List  (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Cretan zelkova threats

Across Europe, the development of agriculture, and later urbanisation and industrialisation, has caused the modification of land use and the widespread destruction of relic forests (8). The few remaining in Crete that contained Cretan zelkova were then dramatically impacted by grazing goats (1). However, this threat has declined over the past 80 years and, fortunately, the species manages to regenerate well by suckering (1).


Cretan zelkova conservation

The Cretan zelkova is listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive (9) and under Appendix I of the Bern Convention (10), which aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats (1).

This endangered plant is protected by law in Greece and is included in the Red Data Book on Rare and Threatened Plants of Greece. Ex-situ conservation measures in place for the Cretan zelkova include storage in a ‘gene bank’ and cultivation. However, in-situ measures are required to ensure the long-term survival of this species in the wild (1).


Find out more

Find out more about the Cretan Zelkova:

  • Tutin, T.G., Heywood, V.H., Burges, N.A., Valentine, D.H. & Walters D.A. (1993) Flora Europaea: Lycopodiaceae to Platanaceae Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


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A type of fruit in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp or skin and mesocarp or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a seed inside.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Measures to conserve a species that occur outside of the natural range or habitat of the species. For example, in zoos or botanical gardens.
Having both male and female sexual characteristics and organs.
Measures to conserve a species inside its natural range or habitat.
A collective term used to describe a lower class of vegetation typified by the predominance of ligneous plants, shrubs or trees.
A dry winged seed, either single, like that of the elm, or double, like that of the maple.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
  2. Tutin, T.G., Heywood, V.H., Burges, N.A., Valentine, D.H. and Walters, D.A. (1993) Flora Europaea: Lycopodiaceae to Platanaceae Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Botanischen Gärten Bonn (April, 2006)
  4. NatureWorks (April, 2006)
  5. Kew at Castle Howard (April, 2006)
  6. European Nature Information System (EUNIS) (January, 2012)
  7. Heywood, V.H. (1978) Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. International Conference Dygen (December 2nd-5th 2002, Strasbourg, France): Dynamics and Conservation of Genetic Diversity in Forest Ecosystems (April, 2006)
  9. EU Habitats Directive (January, 2012)
  10. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (January, 2012)

Image credit

Cretan zelkova tree  
Cretan zelkova tree

© Nick Delaney

Nick Delaney


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