DUBAI // Landscaping companies are cashing in on the demise of the Arabian Peninsula native tree, the damas, in villa communities.
The developer Emaar has issued a warning to Dubai communities that all damas trees should be felled because their roots are strangling underground pipes and choking drains.
Hundreds of the destructive trees are thriving in the communities of The Springs, Lakes, Meadows and Arabian Ranches.
Emaar distributed its Say No To Damas leaflets to the residents last week.
"We never had much demand to remove these trees but now our supervisors are getting many requests," said Neville D'Silva, manager of Euro Coorg Landscaping.
A Meadows villa owner recently paid the company Dh7,000 to clear 10 of the trees from his yard, Mr D'Silva said.
The average cost of cutting down a six-metre damas tree is about Dh550.
"The costs vary depending on the size of the tree and the access available for the labour," he said.
"In this case it was very restricted, narrow access and the trees were very tall."
The damas (or conocarpus) is popular because it requires little irrigation, is tolerant of heat and can be planted as a thick hedge.
"I'm a fan of the damas because it can be used as a tall hedge and it's pest and disease-resistant, so you never have to spray the tree," said Jeff Hicks, a landscape architect and horticulture expert with the Desert Group.
The trees cost between Dh10 and Dh20 a sapling, so they were popular when the communities began planting them five years ago.
But as they have grown, their roots have begun to wreak havoc.
Experts say the damas, which can grow to more than 20 metres tall, could cause long-term damage to the communities.
The roots can wrap around pipes, crack walls, uproot tiles and clog drains.
"The root system is very invasive and if close to a wall, it can break the wall and damage the house," said Paul Toscana, founder of Toscana Landscaping.
"These trees kill plants around them as the roots are always in search of water, so it can also damage pools, sewage pipes and block drains."
An Emaar pamphlet reads: "Nothing is safe when a damas tree is near. Tales of broken pipes, enormous Dewa [Dubai Electricity and Water Authority] bills, damaged walls, root-clogged drains and leaf-filled pools abound."
Arabian Ranches resident Gulshan Kavarana said: "We cut seven damas trees in our garden and I do miss the trees because the damas was beautiful, gave a lot of coverage and attracted so many birds.
"But so many neighbours' back yards are full of damas trees that we have to be careful it does not create a problem for us. Our entire street is filled with damas trees. A lot must be cleared."
Maita Aherin, a resident of The Springs, ordered a survey of the area around the trees to check problem spots.
"In our neighbour's yard the roots spread too deep," Ms Aherin said. "The tree had a stranglehold on water pipes below so it's turned into a big project."
Horticulturists advised residents to be diligent and check underground pipes and irrigation networks before chopping the tree.
"Each area must be surveyed because sometimes the damas tree and roots just need to be pruned," said Mr Hicks. "This is another solution if it's not possible to cut the trees down."
To replace the damas, orange-flowering flame trees, neem and ficus trees are being planted.