x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Programme to save native plants from extinction finally takes root in capital

A project to save native plants from extinction in Liwa has kicked off after more than a year's delay.

A sidr tree, also known as lote. It has medicinal values and its leaves are used as a herbal shampoo.
A sidr tree, also known as lote. It has medicinal values and its leaves are used as a herbal shampoo.

ABU DHABI // A project to save native plants from extinction in Liwa has begun in the capital after more than a year's delay.

The project had been put on hold after Majed Al Mansouri, the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs, ordered it be extended to Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia.

The programme, announced in June 2010 by the UAE University and Western Region Municipality, is to establish a "seed bank" and classify indigenous species, as well as studying their medicinal properties.

"We started using the plants for landscaping in Liwa and on the sidewalks," said Saif Al Mazrouei, the project's manager. "They don't use water so it's been successful so far."

The pilot project includes about 10 plants such as arta, or calligonum comosum, a woody shrub that can grow to 120 centimetres and is native to the Sahara and Negev deserts.

"The wild native plants we work with are rare to find," Mr Al Mazrouei said. "Recently, an increasing number of camels in the desert have been eating them and people also use them for wood burning, so they almost don't exist any more."

These practices are banned but little had been done to enforce them.

"The plants are valuable and unique, but now only 20 per cent of the Western Region's desert is populated by them," Mr Al Mazrouei said.

He said he hoped to grow between 50,000 and 60,000 plants.

But some plans are still on hold due to a lack of Government funding.

"The establishment of the seed bank is delayed because the concept is still being studied," Mr Al Mazrouei said.

Researchers have begun to classify the indigenous species but have not yet begun to study their medicinal properties.

"The Ministry of Environment and Water are doing research on this now with the UAE University," said Mr Al Mazrouei.

"The use of the plants has not yet been defined but it will be finalised with a memorandum of understanding. We just don't know when yet."

He said he hoped the scheme would ensure endangered desert plants thrived again and could eventually be used for medicine and food.

"The project will not stop, it is continuous and we will continue growing them," Mr Al Mazrouei said. "It's part of our culture and these plants are everything to us.

"We need to educate our citizens to take care of native plantation to be able to see more of them because they are our life."

cmalek@thenational.ae