As we know, it would be almost impossible for humans to survive in a world without trees. In the UAE, we may lack the rich variety of native trees often found in cooler or damper climates, but the resilient indigenous species that can survive here are therefore precious and must be conserved.
Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE, was a renowned environmentalist who spearheaded a number of tree-planting programmes in his lifetime and helped transform swaths of the barren desert landscape into pockets of lush greenery.
The Wild Ghaf is a drought – tolerant, evergreen tree which is, possibly, the sturdiest plant of the harsh desert environment, an indigenous species, specific to the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
In the UAE, it can be seen growing on low sand dunes, undulating sand sheets and along margins of gravel plains mostly near the coastal regions in the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
The presence of Ghaf in an area indicates that there is water underground. The tree taps water stored deep in the sand, its roots penetrating as deep as 30 meters to access it. Thus, Ghaf is able to withstand very low rainfall and still stay green.
During long, dry periods, when much of the ground vegetation is dormant, the Ghaf (Prosopis cineraria) spreads out its lush canopy often laden with flower and fruit.
In 2008 the Ghaf was declared the national tree of the UAE and today it is illegal to cut the species
Flowers, fruits, leaves, bark, branches and roots of Ghaf – all provide resources and habitat for a variety of native fauna and flora, making the tree a keystone species; that plays an integral part of the food chain, that if it disappeared, it would cause the ultimate extinction of other species in the ecosystem. The Ghaf homes the desert eagle owl, brown-necked raven, yellow-throated sparrow and long-legged buzzard.
The Ghaf faces survival threats as it is difficult to harvest it in nature; only one in 5,000 seeds take root (the plant is vulnerable as insects get to them) and overgrazing by camels and goats also reduces its numbers. Groves of Ghaf trees in recent years were mowed down due to urbanisation and rapid infrastructure development.
Conservation efforts have been stepped up recently to protect the Ghaf and nowadays special permission from the authorities is required if a Ghaf is in the way of new constructions – the tree is uprooted and transplanted elsewhere where it will survive. Extensive campaigns to plant Ghafs and raise awareness of its importance are being undertaken by communities at all levels.
The Ghaf trees are a part of tradition and culture of UAE. The leaves are used as fodder, and also used as the salad as they are a rich source of protein; the honey from the flowers is of high quality. They have been used traditionally for medicinal purposes as well. They provide shade and shelter for humans and animals. They provide a microhabitat for plants, birds and insects.
Tree planting programme launched in Ras Al Khaimah
The Jumeriah Golf Estate (JGE) has launched an extensive tree planting programme as part of the UAE’s ongoing ‘Year of Zayed’ celebrations.
JGE plans on planting 200 ghaf trees, the national tree of the UAE. They will be planting them across two of their internationally-acclaimed championship golf courses.
The objective of the programme is to bring the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s goal of sustainability to this generation and honour his dream of bringing more greenery to the UAE.
The estate offers one of the largest habitats for wildlife in Dubai. With 4,000 trees, 15 lakes and more than 340 native bird species, JGE is one of the Middle Easts’ most prestigious residential golf communities.
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