Native plants come from affection more than anything else. Same thing happened in Abu Dhabi when the native plants are again back on the city after long research on how to propagate it on the city environment.
Hussam Ali first embarked on what he now describes as his “love affair” with the UAE’s native plants five years ago.
Plants such as the leathery-leaved Rhazya stricta, the salt-tolerant ¬Haloxylon salicornicum and the goat-resistant Tephrosia apollinea may now be his passion, but in the early days Ali was driven by something more than mere botanical ¬curiosity. “There was a buzz in the market,” the nurseryman explains, “and various government agencies were saying that the future lay in ¬native species.”
Keen to get a head start on what he saw as an emerging market, Ali started to scour the UAE’s mountains, dunes and wadis looking for specimens or seeds of the plants he believed would ultimately make him his fortune.Unfortunately, Ali’s employer at the time disagreed with his horticultural hunch and so the plantsman from Peshawar was forced to conduct his research in his own time. “I had no proof to show to my management that they should invest in these plants so I started growing them myself. Each Friday and Saturday, I would go out and some friends might come with me for a gossip and a picnic,” he remembers. “We would spend the whole weekend in the mountains and the valleys collecting seeds and taking cuttings.”
One of the main challenges was that few of the plants had ever been grown commercially and, in many cases, the techniques required for their propagation were a mystery. Ali’s struggle with Zygophyllum mandavillei, a salt-tolerant perennial with succulent-like foliage, is a case in point.
Despite a decade’s experience of working in some of the UAE’s largest nurseries, Ali eventually had to give up and leave, which was wise because it was another three years before he was finally able to unearth the plant’s secret – that the seeds of Zygophyllum mandavillei are almost identical to its foliage.
Thanks to the emergence of government legislation that now champions the use of native and drought-tolerant plant species throughout Abu Dhabi’s parks and public landscapes, along with a change of employer, Ali was finally able to turn his passion into a thriving business after he moved to Al Barari two years ago. “It was a hobby before, but now it is a part of my profession. There is a demand for these plants now and we are ready for that.”
Ali now oversees a team of almost 100 staff whose sole responsibility is sourcing seeds and growing hundreds of thousands of native, naturalised and drought-tolerant plants, including the region’s largest native trees, the slow-growing ghaf (Prosopis cineraria) and the relatively fast-growing sidr (Ziziphus spina-christi).
At the moment, Ali’s team is growing more than 300,000 plants from 30 species across four nurseries, but his aim is to develop a palette of 100 species, including everything from trees and shrubs to grasses and low-growing ground cover.
Nurseries can grow plants but the most important part is to feel about it. The step to revive the native plants may just save the particular species which was present in the area for long time.