Dubai: Several species of dormant plants have bloomed after an unprecedented amount of rainfall this winter and you only have another couple of weeks to enjoy it, according to Dubai’s wildlife specialist Dr. Reza Khan.
Khan has been hurriedly documenting these dormant species before they disappear.
“The highest rainfall was possibly in the hills in the Hajar Range of Mountains, beginning from the north-east tip of the UAE in Ras Al Khaimah to the south-eastern corner in Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain,” Khan told Gulf News.
“Look at any direction from Hatta, base of Jebel Jais, Masafi, Dibba, Khor Fakkan, Wadi Shees and so on, our eyes will feel-like we are in spring gardens in Europe,” he said.
Pink flower carpets in Hatta, RAK
Khan said he was hesitant to take a walk below the road connecting Hatta Fort Roundabout to the town centre. The reason — the steep road banks and the valleys below have got carpeted with uniform pinkish inflorescence of pink mustard (Erucaria hispanica) that ranges over all the hills in the UAE.
The entire foothills of the Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah has now turned pinkish due to this pink mustard, he said.
“This is attracting at least four species of butterflies and small insects.”
Even the little hillocks in the Hatta township have covering of lawn grass, hill grasses, aromatic grass, lavender grass and aizoon/horse purslane or Hidaq in Arabic.
Gravelly hillsides have blossomed in yellow flowers of a wild mustard-like plant called Diplotaxis harra or wall rocket and hara in Arabic.
Only orchid in the UAE
Yellow film over the valleys are further aggravated by spikes of thorny Arabian primrose Arnebia hispidissima, Lotononis platycarpa or Herbeth, sunflower-like Senecio glaucus, Launaea mucronata and the like that come out of hiding annually once only after good rain.
Hummad or hummed, which is eaten raw as salad locally, has grown in profusion in most hilly terrain with some moisture. “Its lush green basil-leaf like showy fleshy leaves are edible and pink- reddish inflorescence is quite showy,” said Khan.
All wadis are located in the UAE hills. Some of these are dry when others have water flowing all year round which is quite rare.
However, as rain has recently lashed the hills heavily, Khan said, “we can see water flowing down from upper parts of wadis to the lower areas. In such hills with flowing water year-round, we find the only orchid of the UAE called Epipactis veratrifolia.”
This cannot grow without continuous supply of water or sufficient moisture, he pointed out.
“If you are lucky and ready to walk along wadis with perennial water, you might get a clump or two of the orchid. It grows as a singleton or a few in one clump. This orchid is called Scarce or Eastern Marsh Helleborine. In Arabic it is known as Obebkatis mamsal.”
Ferns in the hills
There are also half a dozen species of non-flowering ferns in the UAE hills. Their beauty lies in the arrangement of leaves, showy leaf buds, roots and spores under the leaf surface.
“Orchid will always be supported by few ferns while the latter are found in much wider areas than the former.”
The commonest fern is the Maidenhair Fern Adiantum capillus-veneris that in Arabic is Sabaha. “The fern and orchid cannot live without wet soil or rock surface. Both species often grown over a mat of algae.”
In the desert, the sandy dunes are now covered with yellow flowers of Senecio glaucus, also called Buck’s horn groundsel, and mareer/ramloug in Arabic.
These pretty shiny yellow flowers are a look-alike of sunflower or daisies. Some dunes, especially flattish bases are usually blanketed by white flowers of Ghurayra or Eremobium aegyptiacum punctured here and there by yellow flowers of creeping Tribulus terrestris or T. arabicus plants. Often this plant and its flowers on long stalks jut out of pure sand formation.
Largest, beautiful but poisonous-Devil’s Thorn in RAK
“The foothill areas in Ras Al Khaimah surprised me a lot as I found a two to three hectares plot of sandy-gravelly land being taken over by an obnoxious plant called Devil’s Thorn or Devil’s Trumpet Datura stramonium or datoora; tatoora in Arabic,” said Khan.
ScienceDirect.com says the following about the toxicity of this plant: “All parts of the plant contain poisonous alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine (scopolamine). The highest concentration of anticholinergic alkaloids is present in the seeds (equivalent to 0.1 mg of atropine per seed). Adverse anticholinergic effects can occur.”
However, the flower looks beautiful and it is possibly the largest flower of any plant growing in the UAE, according to Dr. Khan.
“The trumpet-shaped flower is white while some may get other colours when in cultivated fields. The flower could measure up to 20cm, while usual ones are 15cm.”
He said it was unbelievable to notice a field covered with these white large funnel-shaped flowers in Kadra in Ras Al Khaimah.
“Seeds of this plant contain a poison harmful to people. Because of this, no camel, goat or donkey will eat it. I have never seen such a huge growth of this plant anywhere in the UAE, but the current location.”
He said most of the flowers that have bloomed across the UAE will remain till the end of March.
Rains welcome birds too
More rains have welcomed more migratory birds also to the inlands of the UAE.
Black-headed gulls have been resting in the green grassy lawns and fields that cover most of the University City in Sharjah.
When there are windy conditions along the seashore, almost all gulls from the coast fly looking for green grassy lawns along roundabouts and roadsides.
The University Campus areas in Sharjah as well as Al Warsan Sewage treatment plant and the Warsan Lake in Dubai have seen a very large number of them. They also make very large roosting colonies in Muhaisnah’s old rubbish dump and Jebel Ali rubbish dump.
“This is a usual site in winter. In the past, thousands used to loiter around the fish market in Deira and golf courses in various parts of Dubai. This gull is a winter migrant. In addition to fish, it eats rubbish from the trash and garbage. They are quite common here during winter, between December and March. By March end, they will head back to Central Asia, passing Iran. They are the rubbish cleaners of the coasts and cities,” said Khan.
Thousands of migratory ducks and cormorants are flocking to the man-made lakes and the marshlands that have formed from the release of excessive quantity of treated sewage water into the desert as well, he added.