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Native plants make a welcome comeback to Abu Dhabi’s streets
By Nick Leech
Hussam Ali first embarked on what he now describes as his “love affair” with the UAE’s native plants five years ago.
“To grow indigenous plants you need more concentration,” the manager of the Barari Nursery in Al Foah, Al Ain, explains. “You need more than concentration. You need love. If you don’t love these plants it is very difficult to learn how to grow them or even how to collect the seeds.”
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.