x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai's landscape has become greener ahead of National Day

National Day 2012: Since Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid called on residents to plant a Union Tree in celebration of the country's National Day, the emirate's landscape has become considerably greener

The three main species used in the One Home, One Tree programme are the Prosopis Cineraria, Acacia Tortilis and the Conocarpus Erectus - more commonly known as Ghaf tree, Samar tree and Buttonwood shrub. Jeff Topping / The National
The three main species used in the One Home, One Tree programme are the Prosopis Cineraria, Acacia Tortilis and the Conocarpus Erectus - more commonly known as Ghaf tree, Samar tree and Buttonwood shrub. Jeff Topping / The National

Thousands of people have been exercising their green fingers over the past few weeks after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, urged people to mark the UAE's 41st anniversary in a unique fashion.

He called on his 1.28 million Twitter followers to plant their own tree, "taking care of it and maintaining it just like our union".

So far his followers are not letting him down. His timeline is flooded with photographs of people proudly showing off the new addition to their gardens.

To help the cause, Dubai Municipality has embarked on an ambitious plan to distribute hundreds of thousands of trees to homes and businesses across the emirate in time for the much-anticipated National Day celebrations on Sunday.

The campaign, called One Home, One Tree, promotes patriotism and gives citizens a chance to express the spirit of loyalty and belonging, according to Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of the municipality.

In a statement to mark the occasion last week, Sheikh Mohammed said: "God Almighty has blessed us with plenty of gifts thanks to the Union Tree, which has united all parts of our homeland under its umbrella and which became a vivid witness for all generations of all of the achievements in the country in every field.

"Today our duty is to build our country with determination and hard work."

The trees, most of them of local species, are being held at the municipality's nursery in Warsan, where they are planted, watered and checked for pests, before being packed onto lorries and sent out for delivery.

They make up some of the many millions of plants and trees grown at the government nursery every year. All flowers, trees or shrubs in public spaces in Dubai - including on roundabouts, parks or lining streets - have been carefully selected and planted by municipality staff.

"This initiative is still part of our main goal, to make Dubai green and beautiful," said Hana Al Zarooni, head of the nurseries unit of the horticulture department. "But with this we always need to look for plants that are low maintenance and can survive in the weather here."

The three main species used in the One Home, One Tree programme are the Prosopis Cineraria, Acacia Tortilis and the Conocarpus Erectus - more commonly known as Ghaf tree, Samar tree and Buttonwood shrub.

"When we are finished we hope Dubai will be a much greener place," said Ahmed Mohammed Abdul Karim, director of Dubai Municipality's parks and horticulture department. "There will be thousands of Union Trees all across Dubai. They will always remind us of our country's success.

"There is a good message behind the planting of these trees. The link between the union and how it started in 1971 and how it has grown until today, and will grow more in the future. The message is to take care of the trees. It represents the union of the UAE.

"We wanted to include expatriates and locals, it doesn't matter which. We are all part of the union. People who live here have all agreed to the same objective of taking care of the country where we live."

A team of volunteers and municipality staff meet every morning to decide which areas of Dubai to target, focusing mainly on villas with gardens because of the size of the trees.

One of the many homes to be given a Union Tree this week was that of Mona Al Suwaidi, a 30-year-old Emirati who lives in the Umm Suqeim property with her parents, brothers and children.

The home, which is on a street of just 16 homes, is one of oldest in the area.

"Planting a tree is a really nice idea," she said. "It will grow each year and every National Day you will remember what it means and why you planted it."

The mother of two remembers marking December 2 in a much more modest fashion when she was growing up in her family home.

"It used to be a much smaller celebration, with just your family on the day. But now everyone is aware of what it is and what it means to people, locals and also other people living here.

The cars are all decorated and the flags are everywhere. Everyone gets involved in the day."

Mona's mother, a handy seamstress, is working with her grandchildren and daughters to stitch their own flag to adorn the front of their property.

"It is tradition," Mona said. "It is how we have always done it. We were some of the first people in this area. This building was one of the first here, before they started building around it."

Despite a heavy advertising campaign, not everyone was aware of the One Home, One Tree initiative. "Some people do not know what the tree is for," said Saif Mohamed Eldin, a foreman responsible for delivering the trees. "But they are very pleased when we tell them. Everyone likes to celebrate National Day."

Saif and a team of four groundsmen drive their delivery vehicle up and down the residential streets of Dubai every evening hoping to catch people at home so they can check them off their many pages of lists.

Each tree has a leaflet attached to it, in Arabic, which explains the initiative.

"I read about the project and I wondered if I would get one," said Karen Gilbert, a Jumeirah resident. "I'm from Australia, so anything to do with more greenery is great. There isn't exactly a lot around here."

Her neighbour Dee Troup, who moved to Dubai in 2004, recognised the small Ghaf tree as soon as it was put on her doorstep. "These things grow huge. Is it possible to have a smaller one?" she laughed. She got a Buttonwood shrub instead.

The programme, she said, was a great way of marking National Day, something which is often celebrated in a very commercial manner.

"There isn't another country like the UAE, and they really are trying. We must appreciate it. And as a bonus it's always nice to have plants around. I think it's a great idea."

Farther up the road was another local family who were busy preparing their home in time for Sunday. Abrar Al Suwaidi and her sister Halima, who have lived in the area for more than 25 years, were very grateful for the new addition to their garden.

Fifteen-year-old Abrar already has her National Day henna applied to her hand - which translates as Emirati and I Am Proud.

"Around here it will get very busy on Sunday," she said. "On Jumeirah Beach Road all the cars come out with the decorations. They make a lot of noise with the horns, and they all drive very slowly down the road. Everyone goes out to watch. It's fun."

Her older sister Halima, 36, said she planned to paint the large front gate in the colours of the UAE flag.

"I will buy the paints tomorrow and paint it, it's good to feel like you are doing something," she said. "But the tree is a great gift. We will plant it and make sure we take care of it. It's a thing to be proud of."

munderwood@thenational.ae