Endemic, rare, and protected plant species in Croatia

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Kockavica (checkered plant) resembles Croatian flag. Photo taken by Yoksel Zok from Unsplash.
Kockavica (checkered plant) resembles the Croatian šahovnica (checkerboard); photo by Yoksel Zok

Biodiversity is essential for a healthy planet. Luckily, Croatia is abundant in biological and landscape diversity. There are 983 protected plant species in Croatia.

We have compiled a list of protected plants, so don’t pick them up if you see them – just admire them. It is up to all of us to save the environment and preserve biodiversity.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

Protection of endangered plants in Croatia

Croatian plants facing extinction, such as endemics or those requiring protection, are designated as strictly protected plant species on the Croatian Red List called Crveni popis ugroženih biljaka i životinja Hrvatske. The ministry responsible for nature protection determines this classification based on the recommendations of the Zavod za zaštitu okoliša i prirode (Institute for Environmental and Nature Protection).

[Read: All the Croatian government ministries and what they do]

Endangered species, those at risk of extinction, are categorized into several levels of endangerment: critically endangered, endangered, and sensitive species. According to the Zakon o zaštiti prirode (Law on the Protection of Nature), it is prohibited to pick, cut, dig, collect, or destroy strictly protected plants. This law is available here.

Endemske biljke (endemic plants), which grow and thrive in specific areas unique to them, can only be found in that particular place and nowhere else in the world. Despite their potential abundance, many of these plants are among the most endangered species. In addition to their rarity, they face habitat loss, climate change, and human activity threats.

If you destroy endangered species of plants or harm the protected environment in any other way, you can be sentenced to three months to five years in prison, as per the criminal code. The other option is to pay a fine ranging from approximately 1.000 to almost 26.000 euro.

What are proljetnice or Croatian spring flowers?

Proljetnice or vjesnici proljeća (spring flowers) herald the arrival of spring and good weather, bringing joy as they display their vibrant colors after a long winter. However, it’s crucial to remember that many of these plants are protected and should not be picked.

One primary reason for the spring flower decline is excessive collection. While picking small amounts of spring flowers for personal use does not threaten their survival, it diminishes the natural beauty of the environment, making it less enjoyable for visitors. On the other hand, uprooting entire plants, including their underground parts, permanently removes them from their habitats and significantly reduces their population size.

In contrast to the strictly protected few, numerous spring flowers are listed in the Pravilnik o strogo zaštićenim vrstama (Rulebook on a collection of native wild species), which you can view here. This regulation governs both the commercial and personal collection of native wild species, including spring flowers.

Commercial collection of spring flowers requires permission from the Ministry, with specific conditions and quotas outlined in the permit. Permit holders must also submit an annual report on the plants collected. Collecting these plants for personal use or household needs without intent for trade or trafficking does not require the Ministry’s permission. However, there are restrictions about the amount you can pick, which you can view here.

Here are some spring flowers growing in Croatia:

  • Bijela šumarica (wood anemone; Anemone nemorosa) – can be picked for personal use
  • Ljubičica (violet; Viola) – can be picked for personal use, except for endangered types
  • Mišje uho (blue-eyed-mary; Omphalodes verna) – can be picked for personal use
  • Primorska ciklama (spring sowbread; Cyclamen repandum) – sensitive species
  • Proljetna dugovača (crocus-leaved romulea; Romulea bulbocodium) – can be picked for personal use
  • Rana ozimica (winter aconite; Eranthis hiemalis) – endangered
  • Rani jaglac (primrose; Primula vulgaris) – can be picked for personal use
  • Šafran (saffron crocus, autumn crocus; Crocus sativus) – can be picked for personal use, except for endangered types
  • Šupaljka (bird in a bush; Corydalis) – can be picked for personal use
  • Velika sasa (the greater pasque flower; Pulsatilla grandis wender) – critically endangered
  • Višecvjetni sunovrat (bunch-flowered daffodil; Narcissus tazzeta) – can be picked for personal use
  • Volujsko oko (bull’s eye; Sanicula epipactis) – can be picked for personal use
  • Žuta šumarica (yellow anemone; Anemone ranunculoides) – sensitive species
Volujsko oko
Volujsko oko (bull’s eye; Sanicula epipactis)

Which plants are endangered in Croatia?

Plant life in Croatia is rich but in danger of disappearance. Climate change and human factors can often endanger these gentle species. If any of them vanished, we would have a great loss that would affect the entire ecosystem.

View the entire list of endangered plants in Croatia here. If you encounter some of these plants in nature, please do not pick or touch them.

We also have a guide on the endangered animals in Croatia available here.

1. Biokovsko zvonce

Biokovsko zvonce (Biokovo’s bluebell; Edraianthus pumilio) is an endemic plant from the bellflower family (Campanulaceae). It thrives on open limestone or dolomite ridges, nestled in the cracks of rocks.

With a remarkable ability to withstand significant temperature variations, this purple plant is found only in the highest regions of Biokovo mountain and inland areas near Sveti Jure and Troglav. Its habitat ranges from 1.400 to 1.700 meters above sea level.

2. Božikovina

Božikovina (common holly; Llex aquifolium) is an endemic evergafreen shrub or small tree belonging to the holly family (Aquifoliaceae). Reaching a height of approximately 5 meters, it features a pyramidal crown and a robust, branching root system.

Flowering typically occurs in May and June, leading to the development of small, vibrant red berries resembling peas, which mature in late fall. They persist on the plant until spring or are consumed by birds. Although the leaves are used as a natural remedy, the fruit is very poisonous, and they can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in severe cases, death.

Božikovina is commonly found in forests and along forest edges, particularly in mountainous regions. In Croatia, it forms larger clusters, especially in Gorski kotar.

3. Crveni pasji zub

Crveni pasji zub (dogtooth violet; Erythronium dens-canis) is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). This purple flower blossoms from March through May, so it belongs to proljetnice. The fruit is an ovoid quiver that is inverted and has blunt edges. Ants have scattered many light brown seeds inside of them.

Dogtooth violet lives between the lowlands and 1.000 meters above sea level. It is a vulnerable taxon and a protected species in Croatia. It can be found in Lika, Velebit, and Gorski Kotar.

View our articles about Velebit:

4. Dalmatinska iglica

Dalmatinska iglica (Dalmatian needle; Geranium dalmaticum) is a fragrant endemic plant from the geranium family (Geraniaceae) that blooms during the early summer months. With each flower boasting five stamens and five petals, this plant reproduces through seeds. The flowers exhibit a captivating purple hue, making them exceptionally appealing, so they were overharvested and now belong to the endangered plants in Croatia.

Dalmatian needle flourishes on Pelješac, particularly in rock gardens and vibrant šume crnog bora (black pine forests) on the island’s northern and southern slopes. It thrives in the crevices of limestone rocks and along the edges of karst valleys.

[Read: Via Dinarica, a mega trail passing through Pelješac, Croatia]

5. Divlja orhideja

Divlja orhideja (wild orchid; Limodorum abortivum) belongs to the orchid family (Orchidaceae), the largest plant family globally. These orchids hold significant value in research due to their fascinating symbiotic relationships with soil fungi and pollinating insects.

In Croatia, there are around 120 to 130 varieties of wild orchids coming in many colors, including white and purple. Istria boasts 77 species, which is 2/3. Two species are endemic to Croatia, istarska kukavica (Serapias istriaca) and pulska kukavica (Serapias x pulae). This abundance can be attributed to the relatively well-preserved environment in the region.

[Read: Hiking trails on Učka mountain in Istria]

6. Drijemovac

Drijemovac (snowflakes; Leucojum) comprises two species in Croatia: proljetni drijemovac (spring snowflake; Leucojum vernum) and ljetni drijemovac (summer snowflake; Leucojum aestivum). It belongs to the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and is a perennial herbaceous plant characterized by an upright, thick stem that lacks leaves. It culminates in a pendant white flower reminding of a bell, so locals call it zvončići (bells).

Referred to as a “sleeper,” it typically emerges later than visibaba, earning its name due to its tendency to appear more subdued compared to other spring heralds. It seems to need a little more rest before joining the active chorus of spring (drijemati means to slumber).

The blossoming period occurs in February and March, which makes them proljetnice. It thrives in moist forests and meadows in Pannonian Croatia and Gorski kotar as an endemic species.

Drijemovac (snowflakes; Leucojum)
Drijemovac (snowflakes; Leucojum)

7. Dubrovačka zečina

Dubrovačka zečina (Dubrovnik knapweed; Centaurea ragusina) is a Croatian endemic plant belonging to the aster family (Asteraceae) and a strictly protected plant species. Its safeguarding aims to prevent unauthorized picking and ensure its preservation, as it seldom tends to spread beyond its natural habitat.

This plant blossoms in early summer, specifically during June and July, and the flowers are yellow while the leaves are light green. While it is prevalent in the coastal regions of the Adriatic, particularly near Dubrovnik and Cavtat, it also thrives on Dugi Otok, Kornati Islands National Park, Vis, Lastovo Islands Nature Park, and Palagruža. It can be spotted in Split, notably adorning the ancient walls of Diocletian’s Palace, protected by UNESCO.

[Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia]

8. Hrvatska sibireja

Hrvatska sibireja (Croatian Siberian; Sibiraea laevigata) belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). This compact endemic plant attains significant height and width, developing extensive branching. Biologists attribute this characteristic growth pattern to daily wind exposure, suggesting it is an evolutionary adaptation.

Hrvatska sibireja thrives exclusively in the western regions of North and South Velebit, situated between 700 and 1.200 meters above sea level. Its preferred environments include sunny, warm, and open spaces, as well as thickets, rocky terrain, and the challenging slopes of foothills. This green plant has light yellow or white flowers.

View our guides to Velebit’s protection:

9. Hrvatski zvončić

Hrvatski zvončić (Croatian bluebell; Campanula cochleariifolia) is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the bellflower family (Campanulaceae). Zvončić exhibits flowering from May to September, producing a quiver-shaped fruit that contains tiny, light brown, egg-shaped seeds. It is commonly planted in Croatian gardens because it is not difficult to grow. View our guide on gardening here.

This plant thrives in diverse environments, ranging from dry to wet meadows and pastures, alongside roads and forest edges, to light forests across the lowlands and foothills of Croatia. It is commonly encountered in Bitoraj, Risnjak, Snježnik, Plješevica, Velebit, Kamešnica, and Dinara. The flowers are blue but appear almost purple.

[Read: Visiting Risnjak National Park in Gorski kotar]

10. Jadranska perunika

Jadranska perunika (Adriatic iris; Iris adriatica) is a plant that grows to a height of only 5 cm and has a powerful blue and purple blossom looking a bit psychedelic, like an orchid’s flower. There is only ever one blossom on the stem. It belongs to the iris family (Iridaceae).

It is an endemic plant found exclusively in Central Dalmatia, on the islands of Čiovo, Brač, Vir, and Kornati, and near the cities of Zadar, Šibenik, Drniš, and Unešić. It thrives on stony pastures that are Mediterranean or sub-Mediterranean in type.

In 2000, the iris was designated as Croatia’s national flower on the recommendation of the Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts).

[Read: National symbols of Croatia]

11. Kockavica

Kockavica (checkered plant; Fritillaries) is a flower whose specialty is the checkered patterns on its petals. They are strikingly similar to the Croatian checkerboard pattern found on the Croatian flag. The colors of the checkerboard are pink and purple.

[Read: Meaning behind the flag of Croatia]

This flower is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae), and it is proljetnica. It is severely protected and illegally picked because of its sensitivity and habitat deterioration. It has spread over central, northern, and eastern Croatia, but also in isolated habitats on the Velebit mountain, which is also home to a few other endangered species.

12. Planinski stolisnik

Planinski stolisnik (mountain yarrow; Achillea clavennae) is a perennial herb in the aster family (Asteraceae). Its name comes from the Greek hero Achilles, who reputedly used this plant to treat his wounds.

This rare herb with white flowers thrives across Croatia in sunny and well-ventilated soils commonly found in stony lawns and crevices of carbonate rocks. Its habitat extends from high mountains to mountain belts, showcasing an impressive resilience to physiological and physical drought conditions.

Similar wild plants are found in Croatia, such as stolisnik (yarrow; Achillea millefolium), which is not protected. View a guide to wild plants you can pick and eat here.

13. Runolist

Runolist (eelgrass; Leontopodium) belongs to the composite family (Compositae). Popularly known as ljutomirka or belica, it consistently represents a plant standing up to 20 centimeters in height, with a blooming season occurring in July and August. Its flowers are fuzzy and white and often compared with lion paws.

This species is prevalent in Croatia, particularly in the mountainous regions of the Dinarides. It thrives in crevices and on shelves of limestone rocks within the foothills and mountainous areas of the Dinaric Mountains, predominantly on the northern slopes. It can also be found in specific locations on stony grasslands, such as the area around Zavižan on Velebit.

14. Tisa

Tisa (yew; Taxus baccata) is an evergreen plant typically growing in a bush or as a low tree. The coniferous bush is adorned with decorative red berries, though it’s essential to note that all parts of the plant, including the berries, are inedible and highly poisonous.

This plant is extremely toxic and enjoys legal protection in Croatia, where the obična tisa (common yew) is the most prevalent species. With an impressive lifespan of up to 1.000 years, there is evidence of an approximately 2.000-year-old yew discovered in Gorski Kotar.

15. Trobridi sijedac

Trobridi sijedac (Resetnikia triquetra) is a plant belonging to the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae) and is an endemic species in Croatia. In terms of appearance, it bears a resemblance to the Velebit degenia, which happens to be its closest relative. Its flowers are yellow and slightly larger than those of the degenia, and it features shovel-shaped leaves.

Trobridi sijedac thrives at lower altitudes compared to the degenia, resulting in an earlier blooming period. However, under cultivation conditions, both species may bloom simultaneously. In nature, it can be found in Dalmatia around Biokovo, Imotski, Omiš, and Brač.

[Read: Visiting Omiš, Croatia]

16. Velebitska degenija

Velebitska degenija (Velebit degenia; Degenia velebitica) comes from the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae). It is one of Croatia’s most significant endemic plants and has been strictly protected for many years. It is easy to spot in nature because of its bright yellow flowers.

There are only three sites in Croatia where you can find Velebit degenia. All of them are next to mountain springs, where degenia has hidden the crevices of shady and pleasantly moist rocks. It was also found in a bukova šuma (beech forest), also in a more humid stony habitat.

17. Velecvjetni kukurijek

Velecvjetni kukurijek (large-flowered cornflower; Helleborus niger), also known as snježnica, belongs to the buttercup family (Helleborus) and is a subspecies of the black cornflower. Despite its classification, this plant boasts entirely white flowers and is also recognized as the Božićna ruža (Christmas rose).

The snowdrop thrives in various forest types, ranging from bukva (beech; Fagus) and grab (hornbeam; Carpinus) to bor (pine; Pinus) and smreka (spruce; Picea) forests. In Croatia, it lives in beech forests with shady areas, predominantly in the hilly landscapes of Samoborsko gorje, Žumberak Nature Park, Velebit, Papuk Nature Park, and Gorski Kotar. It is proljetnica, although it might blossom while there is still snow outside.

18. Visibaba

Visibaba (snowdrop; Galanthus nivalis) is a perennial herbaceous plant from the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). The white, pendulous flower emerges at the apex of the stem simultaneously with the leaves, exuding a pleasant fragrance. Visibaba is one of the earliest spring blossoms, flowering from the end of January through April.

Thriving in moist and nutrient-rich soils, this flower is mostly encountered in mixed forests and meadows, spanning from lowlands to altitudes of 2.200 meters above sea level throughout Croatia. Despite its protected status, visibaba is proljetnica which is considered the least concerning, but you still should not pick them if you find them in nature.

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Fun fact

In Croatian, visiti means to hang, and baba is slang for a woman or grandma. Learn how to call family members in Croatian around the country here.

Visibaba (snowdrop; Galanthus nivalis)
Visibaba (snowdrop; Galanthus nivalis)

19. Zimzelena medvjetka

Zimzelena medvjetka or crveno medvjeđe grožđe (barberry; Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen shrub belonging to the heath family of flowering plants (Ericaceae). The branches grow up to a height of only 30 centimeters, but their robust branching extends up to 1 meter in width and forms a ground-covering carpet.

The fruit pistil is red, rounded, and overgrown, with blooming occurring from March to June. In Croatia, this shrub is primarily found on Velebit and in Gorski Kotar, within the zone of beech and pine trees. This remarkable plant can live for more than 100 years, and it is strictly protected.

20. Žuti srčanik

Žuti srčanik (great yellow gentian; Gentiana lutea) belongs to the gentian family (Gentianaceae). This plant’s roots can age significantly, reaching up to 50 years. Its large, ovate leaves grow in pairs opposite each other.

Blooming occurs from June to September, but only in plants that are at least 5-8 years old. This species is found in the Gorski Kotar and Velebit regions, thriving in mountain pastures, and meadows. Due to its rarity, the great yellow gentian is subject to strict protection.

View our other Croatian nature articles

Frequently asked questions

Does Croatia have protected plant species?

Yes, Croatia has almost 3.000 protected plant species. They have been legally declared endangered to preserve their natural habitats and diversity in Croatian nature.

What to do if you accidentally step on an endangered plant?

If you accidentally destroy a plant, you can report it to the public institution responsible for managing that area if you are in a protected area. For example, if you are in a national park, you can inform the administration of that park. There is no specific procedure in place at the moment.

[Read: National parks in Croatia PLUS detailed visitor guides]

Where can you learn about endangered plants in Croatia?

Botanical gardens are some of the best places to learn about endangered plants in Croatia. One is the Botanički vrt Prirodoslovno-matematičkog fakulteta u Zagrebu (Botanical Garden of the Department of Biology in Zagreb), which offers guided tours.

[Read: Croatia’s botanical gardens and arboreta]


Sources:
Zakon o zaštiti prirode
Večernji list
Convention on Biological Diversity
Biodiversity information system for Europe
Zaštita prirode
Proljetnice u Hrvatskoj

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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