Oman’s famed plants in Dhofar

Within the slopes and valleys of the southern mountains of Oman are an extraordinary variety of flora. The plants in Dhofar inhabit an environment that can change from wet cloud soaked biome to bone-dry desert in the period of a few days or meters. Grass dominates the mountain upper plateau while the sea-facing slopes are have Anogeissus dhofarica as their dominant plant.
Though many plants catch a visitors interest, four are exceptional, in part from their close association with the area.

Frankincense  Boswellia sacra Dhofar
Frankincense  Boswellia sacra Dhofar

Frankincense,  Boswellia sacra, is probably the most well known, though often simply as a name associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. It grows throughout the mountains from the far west to furthest east and almost against the sea in the south onto the steppe on the mountain’s northern face before the desert. Growing to a height of between 2-10 meters the tree is a deciduous plant which flowers over the winter months. Famed for its resin, which is tapped to use for incense and perfume, the tree is under considerable pressure in many areas due to overgrazing, by goats and especially camels, and indiscriminate over tapping.

Baobab Adansonia digitata Dhofar
Baobab Adansonia digitata Dhofar

Far less widespread is the Baobab Adansonia digitata. Though believed to be native to Africa the tree is found in Oman mainly as an isolated population on the sea facing mountain slope near Mirbat. The tree flowers either side of the summer monsoon and leaf growth is towards the end on the monsoon. It is possibly native, though like those found in India it may have been introduced. Firewood is perhaps its only common use in Dhofar, though it does not appear to be cut specifically for that purpose.

Desert Rose Adenium obesum Dhofar
Desert Rose Adenium obesum Dhofar

Desert Rose, Adenium obesum , grows in the rocky coastal slopes along much the Dhofar mountains. With a swollen trunk and relatively spindly branches in Dhofar it grows up to around 2meters. Flowering during the winter months, the shrub’s sap is toxic and therefore is little grazed and in general, it has little use in Dhofar.

Dracaena serrulata Dhofar
Dracaena serrulata Dhofar

Dracaena serrulata grows on both the sea facing and desert facing sides of the southern Dhofar mountains. The small tree is usually single trunked, with long pointed leaves. The flowers are almost insignificant and grow just before the monsoon. The leaf fibre is useful for rope making (in a way common with Sisal) and the young leaf base can be used for human food. Unfortunately, the leaves are also eaten by livestock, resulting in the quick death of individual trees.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman – edition 4