x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Plant Library: Damas tree

This tree grows well in local conditions, but its dropped seeds and flowers can be messy.

Damas is native to the area and can be used to clean contaminated soils, but its dropped seeds and flowers can be messy. Courtesy iStock
Damas is native to the area and can be used to clean contaminated soils, but its dropped seeds and flowers can be messy. Courtesy iStock

Ghalab, Tug Tree (Conocarpus lancifolius)

There are many reasons why this is one of the most widely planted landscape trees and shrubs in the UAE. Fast-growing and tolerant of heat, drought and salt, it makes an excellent large landscape tree, or a screen or windbreak when planted as a hedge.

Often used as a pioneer species in soil stabilisation or reforestation projects, Damas has also proved effective in cleaning oil-contaminated soils and in absorbing heavy metals and minerals through its extensive, fibrous root system. Not only is Damas's dense wood suitable for charcoal and young foliage for fodder, but it also has the appearance of a water-hungry exotic species. In fact, it is native to Somalia, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and requires relatively little irrigation.

Despite these qualities, Damas is easier to appreciate than it is to love. It has several flaws beyond its ubiquity. Dropped leaves, flowers and seeds generate considerable amounts of litter. Its dense root system often prevents anything else from growing nearby. Most problematically, it produces a heavy, unpleasant, nocturnal smell when in flower.

Damas is notoriously difficult to propagate from seed (it even features on a "Difficult Seeds" list at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) but can be grown relatively easily by softwood cuttings.