Qatar is a small desert peninsula, with sporadic rainfall and a hot and humid climate. So you could be forgiven for thinking that plants and trees stand no chance of thriving here – you would be wrong!
Despite the somewhat harsh desert climate, the streets and gardens of Qatar are full of trees and shrubs, both indigenous and those brought in from other countries. They thrive thanks to modern agricultural techniques including artificial irrigation and careful planning by entities such as the Public Parks department at the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) .
The Climate Change Department at MME announced in 2019 that it would be planting one million trees in the country, part of the global initiative on climate change and sustainable environment.
The planting project aims to utilise treated sewage water for irrigation, reducing water wastage, enhancing biological diversity, improving air quality, and increasing greenery to reduce Qatar’s carbon footprint. Priority will be given to government facilities and roadsides in areas which are close to sources of treated water.
The initiative will be carried out in two phases: the first phase is for the establishment of a large nursery for trees and plants; under the second, one million trees will be planted across the country with the participation of schools and other sectors.
According to Abdulhadi Nasser Al Marri, Director of the Climate Change Department, ‘apart from the one million tree initiative, which is a special project, the MME continues to plant trees and work to increase greeneries in parks, streets and other public places for beautification and to deter climate change and reducing carbon footprint.’
In 2018, the MME distributed 4,000 packets of seeds and 11,000 seedlings of wild plants to winter campers for planting in several areas to fight desertification. The Protection and Wildlife Department at the MME also fenced off 12 areas in December 2019 to protect rare native wild plants and trees that are at threat of extinction and overgrazing by animals, as well as to collect seeds for replanting. The department has planted 800 seedlings of Qatari wild trees, including Bumber, Awsaj, Sidr, and Samur. Rawdat Simaisma has been declared a protected area and 600 wild trees have been planted.
Other organisations in Qatar are also involved. The Public Works Authority (Ashghal) has implemented the ‘Qatar Beautification and Our Kids Planting Trees’ campaign to plant a million trees, to continue until the end of 2021. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the importance of planting trees, and for students at different ages to be environmentally aware.
The campaign is overseen by the Supervisory Committee of Beautification of Roads and Public Places in Qatar. The committee, under the MME, works with other ministries and entities such as Qatar Museums, Qatar Railway Company, and Nakilat.
The committee is a vision of The Amir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to preserve the environment for future generations and increase green areas. It has five objectives: the construction of central public parks; provision of dedicated lanes for pedestrians and bicycles; the development of Doha Corniche; the development of Central Doha; and increasing afforestation and greenery areas.
All of these efforts also fall under the fourth pillar of Qatar National Vision 2030, Environmental Development, which outlines several challenges facing Qatar’s environment, namely a rapidly growing population, increased air pollution, and damage to natural habitats.
Selected trees being used in beautification projects across Qatar
One of the department’s other projects is for the protection of a rare native tree, Ghaf (right). The Protection and Wildlife Department has collaborated with the Agricultural Affairs Department, Al Shamal Municipality, and the Public Parks Department, to protect Ghaf trees since 2015. At that time, there were just 50 trees – a recent survey shows that this has increased to more than 400 over the last three years.
Ghaf (Prosopis cineraria) is an evergreen, spiny tree that can grow to 15 m in height, with a round canopy and distinctive loose, pendulous branches. Leaves are compound, and there are clusters of small, cream-yellow flowers.
Ghaf has a deep and extensive root system to reach groundwater, and has a high tolerance to Qatar’s environmental conditions.
The tree has been important to the Bedouins in the Arabian Gulf, with the leaves and pods being used as dry fodder for cattle and camels. The tree provides good firewood and is impervious to insects and ground worms. The honey produced by bees feeding on the flowers is of a good, high quality.
Sant (Vachellia nilotica), seen above at Aspire Park, is an evergreen, fast-growing tree that can reach 10 m, dark to black-coloured stems and branches, and a grey, red or brown rough bark. Again leaves are compound, and bright yellow flowers bloom in spring and summer.
It is more commonly known as the gum arabic tree or prickly acacia, and although the tree has been used in beautification projects, precaution should be taken due to its thorns.
Canary Palm (Phoenix canariensis) is, as you might guess from the name, a native invasive tree from the Canary Islands. It has been brought to Qatar due to its tolerance for harsh environmental conditions, being able to withstand temperatures of up to 47°C. The single trunk can grow up to 15 m in height and is a relative of Phoenix dactylifera, the date palm more often seen in Qatar. It can be found in most of the public parks, lining footpaths in clusters or as a single tree among other shrubs.
The Weeping Bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis) has been successfully cultivated in Qatar. It prefers moist soil and thrives in direct sunlight. The tree grows to about 4 m with slender leaves on pendant branches. The name comes from the bright red stamens which resemble a bottle brush. The swaying branches are quite beautiful to look at throughout the year, and can be grown as hedges and screens in public spaces.
More information about the local flora and fauna is readily available from Qatar e-Nature, at enature.qa or via the app. This is an initiative of Sasol and Friends of the Environment Center, and supported by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
Author: Sarah Palmer
The images shown are courtesy of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, Flora of Qatar, and Alex Sergeev.
This article is from Marhaba Information Guide’s Issue No 77 Spring/Summer 2020.
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