Bulletin 29 - July 1986: Common Landscape Plants in the UAE

Common Landscape Plants in the UAE

by J.C. Malone


The climate of this region of the world would initially appear hostile to the development of gardens and landscaped areas such as parks and road verges. Rainfall is low and infrequent and evaporation high; soils are mostly shallow and of poor texture, often overlying a loamy calcium lacking in natural phosphorus; salinity levels are generally very high; and surface winds can be fierce over prolonged periods. However, over the years careful selection of introduced species, plus utilisation of a few native species, has helped to combat these problems. While the effect on the country as a whole is minimal, the concentration of landscaped areas in towns and cities is in marked contrast to the original land area even as recently as five years ago. Around the plants themselves in these gardens and parks the effect on the microclimate can be remarkable. Temperature is reduced in shaded areas, direct sunlight is filtered onto the ground and manmade surfaces such as walls and paths, wind speed is reduced and sand and dust accumulations minimised. To us humans this greening is a relief and a triumph over the perceived monotony of the natural desert landscape with its scattered plant communities and lack of striking colour.

The lists that follow are not by any means complete as the Group is still compiling data, and the whole country would need to be surveyed. Most of the following names apply to the Arabian Gulf cities. Commercial fruits and crop species have been omitted though in a very few cases, such as the date palm and wavy-leafed tecomella, the species is grown both as an ornamental and for its fruit.

Finally, there follows some notes on environmental factors and plant growth, which are generalisations based on experience gained to date.

Introduced Trees

Family Anacardiaceae
Mangifera indica mango, commonly in date oases and plantations, particularly along the Fujeirah coast; becoming popular in gardens in Al Ain and Fujeirah but unknown on Arabian Gulf coast.
Family Apocynaceae
Plumeria acutifolia
P. rubra
Family Casuarinaceae
Casuarina equisetifolia whispering pine, she oak, mostly as shelter-belts fringing plantations and afforested areas, especially in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi; also surrounding town parks.
Family Combretaceae
Terminalia catappa Indian almond, introduced in the nineteenth century in mountain oases; a magnificent shade-giver, popular on roundabouts and lining roads particularly in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
Family Ehretiaceae
Cordia myxa mostly for shade and fruit in mountain oases but occasionally a garden and park ornamental along the Fujeirah coast.
Family Leguminosae
Albizzia lebbeck parrot tree, fry wood tree.
Bauhinea variegata ebony tree.
Inga dulcis, syn.
Pithocellobium dulce
monkey's ear.
parkinsonia aculeata Jerusalem thorn.
Prosopis juliflora mesquite, algaroba bean; one of the earliest town ornamentals which under favourable conditions spreads easily and forms large thickets in Ras al Khaimah town and surrounding villages; reputed to be a prime cause of local hayfever.
Poinciana regia, syn.
Delonix regia
flamboyant tree, flame of the forest.
Family Lythraceae
Lawsonia inermis henna.
Family Malvaceae
Thespesia populaea Aden apple.
Family Meliaceae
Melia azederach neem tree, a sweet-scented evergreen with showy lilac or purple flowers.
Family Moraceae
Ficus nitida, syn.
F. retusa
laurel fig.
F. religiosa peepul.
Morus nigra mulberry, only in mountains and plantations along Fujeirah coast.
Family Myrtaceae
Eucalyptus camaldulensis red gum, mostly as shelter-belts around deep desert plantations.
E. microtheca dwarf box.
Psidium guajava guava.
Family Oleaceae
Olea europaea olive tree.
Family Palmae
Cocos nucifera coconut palm.
Washingtonia robusta Californian fan palm.
Family Rhamnaceae
Ziziphus jujuba Chinese date, jujube; trials are also being carried out to find out whether this species can be a profitable crop for its oil.

Introduced Shrubs and Climbers

Family Acanthaceae
Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum
P. reticulatum
Family Apocynaceae
Nerium oleander Mediterranean oleander, very similar to the native Nerium mascatense which is widespread in mountain wadis in the north and east; in both cases the flowers are pink, but N. oleander also has a white variety.
Thevetia nereifolia, syn.
T. peruviana
yellow oleander.
Family Bignoniaceae
Tecomella stans yellow elder, yellow bells.
Family Cactaceae
Opuntia engelmannii prickly pear.
Family Convolvulaceae
Ipomoea biloba
I. crassicaulis
Family Euphorbiaceae
Breynia nirosa
Acalypha wilkesiana
Family Leguminosae
Caesalpinia bonduc fever nut, physic nut.
C. gilliesii, syn.
Poinciana gilliesii
bird of paradise.
C. pulcherrima peacock flower, Barbados pride.
Family Liliaceae
Asparagus sprengeri
Family Malvaceae
Hibiscus rosa sinensis Chinese shoe flower.
Malvaviscus arboreus Turk's hat hibiscus.
Family Myrtaceae
Callestemon speciosus
Melaleuca leucadendron
both Australian bottle-brushes
Family Nyctaginaceae
Bougainvillea glabra
B. spectabilis
both hedges and climbers; widely cultivated in cities; dominat visual shrub in parts of Abu Dhabi.
Family Oleaceae
Jasminum sambac Arabian jasmine.
Family Plumbaginaceae
Plumbago capensis leadwort.
Family polygonaceae
Antigonon leptopus coral vine, rosa de montana.
Family Portulacaceae
Portulaca grandiflora purslane.
Family Rubiaceae
Ixora coccinea
Family Verbenaceae
Clerodendron inerme wild jasmine, 'yasmin zaffr'.
Lantana camara common lantana.
Family Vitaceae
Vitis vinifera grape vine.

Indigenous Trees and Shrubs

In addition to the exotics listed above there is a number of local species which are utilised, particularly as shelterbelts, hedges and occasionally as town ornamentals.

Local Trees

Family Bignoniaceae
Tecomella undulata around Hatta and Dhaid.
Family Leguminosae
Acacia arabica
A. tortillis
Prosopis spicigera
all grown in nurseries in the Western Region for transplanting into afforested areas.
Family Rhamnaceae
Ziziphus spina-christi crown of thorns tree.

Local Shrubs

Family Asclepiadaceae
Calotropis procera
Leptadenia pyrotechnica
as for the legumes above
Family Chenopodiaceae
Atriplex leucoclada
Family Polygonaceae
Calligonum comosum widespread in western dunes.
Family Salvadoraceae
Salvadora persica 'rak', toothbrush bush.
Family Sapindaceae
Dodonaea viscosa native to higher mountains.
Family Tamaricaceae
Tamarix aphylla able to tolerate highly saline conditions


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