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The Flora Of Qatar
If you’re new, or even not so new, to the region you won’t recognise the many species of trees and plants in Qatar so let’s take a closer look at them…
The Shafallah (caper flower) is native to Qatar with a pinkish-mauve and white flower from March to May and an ovoid red fruit containing numerous seeds. In traditional medicine, the plant was used to treat rheumatism, toothache, sciatica, ulcers and female sterility. Shafallah has been identified as the ‘Hyssop’ of the Bible. The name was chosen for Qatar’s centre for children with special needs, established by HH Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, and a Shafallah perfume was created for the centre’s first major fundraising campaign.
Sidra, also known as ziziphus, is the symbol of Qatar Foundation, and can grow to six metres. It is sturdy and deep rooted, and in the past provided valuable shade and shelter. All parts of the tree have medicinal values, including treating snakebites. Its fruits (kanara) are considered a delicacy and are rich in protein and minerals.
Ain al qot (literally cat’s eye) takes its name from the appearance of its seeds. It is found mostly in northern and northeastern Qatar and flowers in February and March.
Awsaj, a rigid, thorny plant, grows to a height of three metres and flowers throughout the year, with red edible berries.
Aqool (camel thorn or pea plant) is a shrubby perennial and a favourite of camels. When the plant is attacked, it exudes a sweet white substance known as manna.
The qurm mangrove is found in shallow coastal waters and is another favourite of camels. It grows to three metres and its wood was once used as roof poles. Campaigns to increase the mangroves have been organised at Rass Laffan Industrial City, Al Mafjar and Fuwairet.
A very common tree in Qatar is samr, which can grow to eight metres and flowers in May and June. It has leathery seed pods.
Gafnah (shafna) is a very common annual herb growing along roadsides in Qatar and it often looks like a green starfish! Its leaves were used in salads – if the camels hadn’t got to it first. Along the coasts grows qataf. Qataf dominates plant communities and has pink or lilac flowers from March to May.
There are five species of acacia that can be found in Qatar – two wild and three cultivated – one of which is al salam. Growing no more than three metres, it has long white spines and bears yellow flowers in April and May.
Phragmites australis is a perennial grass that was found quite extensively in Qatar wherever there was brackish water but is becoming less common as construction covers more land.
A strange-looking but edible plant is the tarthuth, rare in Qatar, but found occasionally on salt marshes and maritime sands. From a distance, it looks a little like the head of a bulrush on a very short stem.
More common is the dhanoun, a large perennial with a thick fleshy stem and a thick floral spike with yellow flowers, which makes it look like some strange leafless desert hyacinth. It flowers from March to May.
Truffles grow just below the ground after the winter rains; they are found in sandy soil and truffle hunters, who collect them early in the morning, say you can often identify their presence by cracks in the surface sand and tell-tale dewdrops on the surface.
Date palms are prolific in Qatar and provided both food and building materials in times gone by. The tree has a very small root ball, making it popular in landscaping, as trees can be uprooted and replanted easily. Recently several date groves have been rehabilitated and dates are again being produced commercially.
Dates are a complete foodstuff, being rich in protein, fibre and sugar, as well as having high levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Trees are either male or female (they are planted one male tree to seven female trees), and dates form on the female tree. For those who have just a female tree in their garden, it is possible to buy pollen in the souqs! The lower sections of the trunk are usually treated with a white insect repellent, while the fibrous dying fronds are cut back and removed each year.