Bulletin 12 - November 1980: Plants Palatable to the Arabian Oryx

Plants Palatable to the Arabian Oryx

by Peter Dickinson, Curator
Chris Furley, Veterinarian
Al Ain Zoo

Much of the following information is culled from two authors, M. Lloyd and D.R.M. Stewart (1963) and relates to vegetation found locally in the Eastern Province of the Abu Dhabi Emirate. It does not purport to be a complete list.



Gramminae (grasses) (a) Aristida plumosa Tufted annual herb, commonly known as three-awned grass. Up to 50cm (Arabic nussi)
  (b) Astenatherum forsskali Perennial desert grass with woolly root fibres, 5 30 cm high. Leaves hairy on both surfaces; panicle (branched flower head) 5 10 cm long. Spikelets are three-flowered, 7 8 mm long. Common in very dry sand. (Arabic sabat)
  (c) Lasiurus hirsutus Perennial bushy desert grass 30 60 cm high, characterized by its brittle, silky spike, 10 14 cm long and 1 cm broad. Very similar to Pennisetum divisum but spike definitely brittle, not tough. Pale yellow appearance at a distance.
(Caltrop family)
(a) Fagonia indica Common shrublet of rocky foothills. Up to 0.5 m tall with pinkish flowers up to 1 cm broad and armed with sharp spines. Slender and fragile in appearance and easily missed in amongst stones and other vegetation. (Arabic mushikka)
  (b) Tribulus spp. Perennial herbs with prostrate stems (though stems can be seen virtually erect in well-watered and protected plantation areas). Flowers usually yellow with five petals, not unlike an opened-out buttercup on casual glance. Usually an indicator of non-saline water beneath the sand. (Arabic "zahar)
Leguminosae (Pea family) (a) Taverniera lappacea Low shrub with grayish-green branches and small, spine-like leaves. Branches up to 30 cm long. Flowers are pink and prominent, 10 20 cm long, blooming March April.
  (b) Tephrosia apollinea Common shrublet of lower-altitude hillsides. A tall, stiff, silvery plant with pink flowers. (Arabic dafra)
  (c) Cassia senna A low, woody shrub with paired leaves and yellow flowers and straight, thin, papery legume
Geraniaceae (a) Monsonia glauca Perennial herb, 15 25 cm high, with rosette of 2 6 flesh-colored flowers. Occasional in sandy desert areas.
Cruciferae (a) Dipterigium glaucum A very common perennial in sandy habitats. Long slender stems, appearing almost leafless at times. Flowers minute, yellow.
(Gourd family)
(a) Citrullus colocynthis A prostrate perennial herb with branches trailing for two or three meters. Flowers similar to cucumber or melon, yellow. Fruit is apple-sized, striped, mottled-green at first, turning yellow when ripe. Common in wadis or on sand below rocky overhangs where water can collect. The Oryx also eats the fruit.
(Dogbane family)
(a) Rhazya stricta Up to 1 m high on silty and alluvial flatlands. Related to the oleander. Flowers white; stems and fleshy twigs contain milky sap said to be poisonous. Normally avoided by grazing animals. Leaves and long thin pods turn brown and brittle. (Arabic harmal)
Cyperaceae (a) Cyperus conglomeratus Large, tufted sedge; leaves often grooved and pointed at tips. Flowering stem erect (20 50 cm high) and above most leaves. Flowers consist of several compact spikelets near top of stem. Common in sandy, low-salinity soils that are well drained.
Compositae (a) Pulicaria spp. Small herbs with showy yellow heads 5 25 mm in diameter. Heads are many-flowered. Leaves are serrated and pointed, decreasing in size higher up the stem. Occasional in sandy areas.
(Spurge family)
(a) Chrozophora spp. Grayish-green, woolly shrublets, generally small with large leaves. Flowers inconspicuous; fruits small scaly capsules. Maximum 1 m high (c. oblongifolia)
(Broomrape family)
Phelypaea spp. (Cistanche) Leafless parasite, lacking chlorophyll; depends on nourishment via thread-like attachments to host plant, frequently a saltbush variety. Often seen on or near seashore in sandy or shell-covered areas. Flower is a striking yellow spike, sometimes up to a meter tall, reminiscent of a long, thin, tightly closed hyacinth.
Cynomoriaceae (a) Cynomorium coccineum Fleshy blackish-brown parasite, smaller than cistanche and less common. Flowers small and crowded on club-shaped spike. Up to 30 cm high.


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