Halfa grass, big cordgrass, and salt reed-grass texture SHUTTERSTOCK Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: A rare species of plant, known to exist only in two locations in the UAE, has now apparently become extinct in the wild, but has been preserved thanks to work by the Dubai-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), according to a recently published report.

The plant, Halfa grass (Desmostachya bipinnata), had only been recorded from Kalba, on the East Coast, and from an area in the coastal zone of Ras Al Khaimah.

Native to parts of Northeast Africa as well as South and West Asia, including parts of the Arabian Peninsula, Halfa grass was reported over 25 ago from a site in Kalba, although searches there between 2007 and 2009 by two ICBA researchers, Mohammad Shahid and N.K. Rao, failed to find any surviving plants.

In 2007, however, they found around 50 plants growing close to the coast in Ras Al Khaimah, as part of detailed surveys focused on locating the UAE’s rare plants. Seeds obtained from the plants failed to germinate, but a single plant was collected and transplanted to the ICBA research facility, where it has been successfully grown.

A visit to the original Ras Al Khaimah site in 2013 found that the area had been cleared for construction and that all of the plants had disappeared.

“With the elimination of the flora from the site, the last-known Halfa grass plant in the UAE had gone,” according to a report by Shahid and Rao in the latest issue of the academic journal Tribulus, published by the Emirates Natural History Group.

“Due to the extent of new construction, especially in areas close to cities and towns, many wild plant species are rapidly being lost,” they say, adding that with the UAE example of the species being protected at ICBA, it “can be reintroduced to the wild in the future, with the help of relevant agencies”.

Halfa grass, which can be grown in marginal lands with high salinity and a shortage of fresh water, can be grown as a fodder for livestock and can also be used for making ropes, brooms and thatch. It is also used in many traditional medicines in India, Shahid and Rao say.