Albeit a small country in terms of its surface Greece hosts a relatively large diversity of plants edible or otherwise living in the European and Mediterranean region. Its rugged backbone of mountains running from north to south interspersed by small valleys, hills and coastal plains as well as its many islands are home to a rich variation of plants. Early settlers brought the secrets of primitive farming in the area by the seventh millennium BC mark the beginning to continuous farmer innovation to develop new plants to suit many microclimates as well as differing tastes. Sustained plant breeding over the past 9000 years together with a naturally diverse environment have resulted in high crop diversity particularly for the oldest staple crops living in the region and first and foremost wheat, barley, as well as legumes, olives, grapes.
Founded in 1981 with support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) the Greek Genebank is the country’s national crop conservation organization, working to save biological diversity of food resources. In Greece as around the world crop diversity took a rapid downturn in the past 50 years with as many as 90% of food crop varieties lost from the field. More than 10.000 accessions of wild and cultivated plant material are collected and stored in the freezers of the Bank in Thessaloniki as insurance against their further loss. Among others the Bank features one of the richest collections of wild wheat holding about three percent of genetic resources of wild wheat held by genebanks globally.