x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Country to save its plants' seeds

A new nation-wide project will attempt to preserve the UAE's plant life, from the deep-rooted ghaf to the sabkahs of the salt flats.

ABU DHABI // A new nation-wide project will attempt to preserve the UAE's plant life, from the deep-rooted ghaf to the sabkahs of the salt flats. Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, said Dh23million has been made available for a genetic bank, which aspires to gather the seeds of every single one of the nation's 629 known plants.

Mr al Mansouri said the agency is in discussions with UAE University, which it hopes to attract as a scientific partner. "We are establishing a genetic bank for all UAE plant species. We want to link this with scientific research," Mr al Mansouri said. Although the plan is funded by Abu Dhabi, it will be a national initiative, he said. The environment agency will be reaching out to environmental authorities in other emirates to involve them in the project. The bank will be run by a committee with representation from all emirates.

He said the bank was necessary as many indigenous plants are threatened from development and overgrazing. Besides storing the country's genetic plant diversity, the bank will also be used in re-planting programmes, he said. With the exception of some species that grow in mountain wadis, most of the plants in the UAE are uniquely adapted to the country's dry conditions. Among the trees, Prosopis cineraria, commonly known as ghaf, is famous for its long roots, which can penetrate 100 metres into the soil to find groundwater.

Another plant, known as dune grass, uses the opposite strategy. Its roots are so shallow that they absorb the mist that settles on top of sand dunes. This plant is a type of sedge known to live in waterlogged soils, but its shallow roots make it possible for it to survive in the desert. The plants that grow in salt flats, known as sabkahs, have yet another trick. They tolerate highly saline water that would kill other plants.

Also among the more bizarre things that grow in the desert are mushrooms, which are edible and can be seen after the winter rains. It is still not clear when work on the seed bank, which will be located in its own purpose-built premises, will start. The announcement was made on the sidelines of the launch of a photography exhibition which will start in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. The exhibition, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, will feature images of rare animals that live in the UAE. The exhibition will be open to the public in the capital until March 7. It will move to Al Ain from March 21 to 25 and Al Gharbia from April 12 to 16.

vtodorova@thenational.ae