Having previously explored topics as varied as Oman’s whale and marine populations, hydroponic agriculture and efforts to protect the endangered Arabian tahr and Nubian ibex, this year the prestigious Oman Natural Heritage Lecture turns its attention to the flora of the Sultanate, in particular the work being undertaken at the under-construction Oman Botanic Garden, Diwan of Royal Court, Sultanate of Oman (see above) to research and conserve the region’s unique plant life.
Oman is a centre of plant diversity in the Arabian Peninsula, with 15.8 per cent of the flora being range restricted. Very few of the Omani native plants have been in propagation before the Botanic Garden project. Its development from scratch gave the Garden’s staff the chance to explore the entire country’s habitats in order to collect plant materials and document data about the diverse native flora. Hundreds of field trips have been organised to collect seeds, cuttings and even whole plants when required.
Mrs Laila Al Harthy is a senior botanist at the Garden and will be presenting the first of the evening’s two keynote speeches, exploring the trials and tribulations in gathering this fieldwork (requiring everything from donkeys to helicopters in order to traverse the complex terrain) and detailing the research projects that are being undertaken as the Garden continues to be developed.
Current research areas include the flora and vegetation data collection, seed propagation, plant cultivation, pest and disease research and ethnobotany, while in the future the garden is aiming to expand its research to include areas such as plant genetics.
One of the other key missions for the Garden is to address the poor representation of the Arabian Peninsula’s flora in similar gardens around the world. Dr Khalid Al Farsi is a senior horticulturalist for the Botanic Garden and will deliver the evening’s second lecture, detailing the ways the Garden research team has developed new protocols and systems for plant propagation, potting, plant handling, irrigation, pruning, and pest and disease management ever since the project’s inception over a decade ago.
The Garden hopes to develop a comprehensive ex-situ collection of Oman’s native plants for the purpose of conservation, research and education, while in-situ initiatives include a ‘plant rescue project’ whereby mature trees and large shrubs were translocated from sites being destroyed for road construction. Dr Farsi’s presentation will take the audience through this and many other examples of the Garden’s novel and exciting horticultural research and practices.
OMAN BOTANIC GARDEN
Located at the foot of the Al Hajar Mountains in northeastern Oman, the Oman Botanic Garden was initiated following a Royal Decree in 2006 by his Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Construction of the native plant nursery began in 2007 and, although operational, aspects of the garden are still being developed. At present, the nursery houses one of the largest documented collections of Arabian plants in the world, with approximately 70,000 plants in cultivation.
Once completed, the Garden will eventually cover 420 hectares of land, making it the largest in the Arabian Peninsula. It will eventually offer a range of immersive biomes for visitors, from arid deserts to rich monsoon cloud forests, and it will be the first in the world to grow only the native species of a region, planted in natural habitat gardens throughout the site.
Two of the habitats currently displayed are enclosed within glass biomes that Arup, the project’s engineering and design partner, has designed to mimic the natural temperature and humidity of the plants’ unique external environments. The northern biome displays the varied habitats of the Northern Mountains, including their ancient agricultural terraces, while the Southern Biome encloses a green forest ‘Khareef’ setting, similar to that found in the Dhofar region. The form, shape and materials used within the designs have been selected to mirror the natural conditions required by the plant species, from topography to atmospheric conditions, to passive and active shading.
The Garden will include research facilities for ecology, sustainability and horticulture programmes as part of Oman’s response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. The herbarium will be a central focus, its staff working closely with researchers from within Oman and international research institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh.
High sustainability standards are a key driver behind the design of the project and the developer is aiming to achieve the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating by utilising treated sewage effluent to supply recycled water for irrigation and water features. The site is also dedicated to recycling used materials including timber, aluminium, steel and plastic.
Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!