Searching for endemic plants across Oman's central desert, for Oman Botanic Garden


At the end of January 2017, the "Anglo" team returned from the Middle East to their home countries - the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. After an intensive 20 days of traversing Oman's central desert and conducting botanical field work, the team retuned to the UK with a feeling of achievement.

Having collected extensive quadrant data in remote regions of the central desert, it is now time to find out what the data could mean for this Oman's climate and environment.

The team had completed the data collection stage for the Oman Botanic Expedition; a project set out by the Oman Botanic Garden (OBG), sponsored by the Anglo-Omani Society, to map the distribution of seven key plant species in unstudied, remote regions of the central desert.

It is thought by researchers, that some of these species can indicate which parts of the central desert are dominated by tropical, humid air masses, and which are more arid. This intercollation of air systems is what has brought a unique ecology to Oman and its surrounding countries.

Ecological richness is clear when experiencing the "cloud forest" of Dhofar, teaming with diverse insects, birds and reptiles, that seem like they belong in the rainforest. This lush setting contrasts with the baron sand dunes of the Rub' Al Khali desert, made up of arid air. The mixing of air masses travelling from the South-East, across the Gulf of Aden, with the arid airs of the Northern desert has provided unique habitats across the country.

Particular plants favour specific climates, temperatures and humidities in the air. Therefore, some species can be so specific to their environment they are considered 'endemic'.

As the focus of this expedition was to identify seven of the endemic plant species, such data could help botanical researchers understand the weather systems and changing environment of Oman.

Setting out into the sun

When embarking on the field study, they set out with vans, field equipment, and lots of suncream. Different parts of the team were allocated to separate groups that would survey particular transects, spanning from the coast, towards the inner central desert.

Using maps and a GPS for navigation, they assessed the right points to survey. Each data site was marked with four poles to make a quadrant, with the help of measuring tape. Within the space inside the quadrant, the presence of identified endemic plants could be counted in the area, and the soil briefly assessed. Commonly, the soil texture was simply sand (perhaps unsurprising since this is a desert!). Though there was an occasional emergence of white, gypsum bottom soil.

At the closing presentation the team gave at the Oman Botanic Garden headquarters, it was announced that nearly 100 quadrants had been recorded. For the "Anglo" team it was not just the data collection that was a key achievement, but so was the experience of the country.

With a few team members of the Oman Botanic Garden at their side, the "Anglo's" progressively learnt more and more about Oman's unique plants, and culture. They opened their minds to local knowledge, which can be seldom found from the usual "google search".

The Omani botanists carry on a traditional knowledge of their plants, and how they have been used throughout history. The Oman Botanic Garden helps preserve this valuable information; by protecting, conserving, and researching the countries plants, and fostering collaboration with the wider world.