A pretty picture, you would say. But the tree in the picture is more than pretty. It's pretty tough. And vital to the environment.

The ghaf tree (Prosopis cineraria) has historically been held in high esteem by the inhabitants of the UAE. Its leaves were used instead of rice before this grain became available and its elongated pods provide fodder for animals. The ghaf trees also provide shade, wood for cooking and timber for shelters.

According to the WWF, the global conservation organisation, the ghaf woodlands also support large populations of insects that either feed on the trees or use them as shelter. The insects provide food for reptiles, birds and small mammals, on which, in turn, wild cats and desert foxes prey.

Even during long dry periods, when much of the ground vegetation is dormant, these trees maintain lush canopies of leaves and are often heavy with flower and fruit.

In addition this tree is a vital combatant of desertification in its ability to reduce sand encroachment on valuable oases.

In fact, in countries like Pakistan it has been used in reforestation of arid lands as it is a versatile species affecting soil improvement, as well as sand dune stabilisation. The tree that the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan gave his personal patronage to has today lost out to concrete and asphalt.

In 2006, the WWF started a campaign, 'Save the Ghaf', to preserve it. Luckily, many that managed to survive have found a new home in Mushrif Park in Dubai. A pity that what was once the backbone of the desert has to be cosseted in a reserve.

Source: www.panda.org