Desert Street Trees


The founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, understood the hardships of the sand desert landscape. His intent for trees along all major routes of travel was eminently practical–his selection of drought tolerant, evergreen and fruit bearing trees more so.


     The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal

               Desert Street Trees

The weather in combination with the landscape, overwhelmed. Winds and sand swept continuously. Urban development anomalies in this desert were embarrassingly exposed in this kind of weather. Driving along Sheik Zayed Road in the Emirate of Dubai, Chalmers observed a noteworthy absence of any trees, any street trees, anything green. Nothing impeded the winds and sand flowing across the road.

After he and Jean-Claude passed the signs marking the end of the huge empty Waterfront site, they entered the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Immediately street trees began–actually a planting thicker than street trees, more like a shelterbelt planting began–two rows of trees up the median and four rows on either verge.

The big infrastructure of irrigation water provision–hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of pipes, valves and tubes with emitters, with controllers, with electrical supply, with pumps, pump stations, reservoirs, desalination and sewage treatment plants–always broke down at the lowest common denominator, the last meter before arriving at the plants. Chalmers looked carefully. He could see irrigation lines–the thin tubes of generic poly pipe running between the trees.

Poly pipe tubing may be UV resistant. It may be buried at the time of installation–but the incessant blowing sands always uncovered it–and the value engineering often saved money by suggesting a supplier that did not provide the best rated tubing. The flexible tubing looked like a snake rising up out of the sand and going down into it again and again. Sun exposed brittle and splitting pipe–then partially clogged outlets–both and more contributed to an irrigation of impossible efficiencies and irregular applications–wastage everywhere.

Recalling having seen these problems for more than twenty five years, Chalmers sighed with disappointment–as if he had just been kicked in the gut. At the same time, Madge’s comments about the quality of local contractors’ work and materials came searing back into his memory. Before he could sigh again, he looked hard at the trees, trees obviously straining under the wind and drought conditions.

Chalmers roughly estimated 90% of the trees were alive–that could only mean two things:  that drought tolerant tree species were used, and that laborers were regularly walking these lines to assure delivery of water to the trees. Spaghettis of pipe ran for kilometers to drip out that life giving fluid–so fragile was life for plants in this region.

On previous projects, Chalmers had seen tens upon tens of huge water tanker trucks rumbling 24/7 to supplant failed irrigation water infrastructure–causing untold stress on resources, on transportation networks and on the plants themselves. This issue would be a major point that he must control on his new project.

Offering historical background, Jean-Claude interrupted Chalmers’ thoughts, “When you mentioned Electra and New Dubai, you hinted there might be some kind of competition between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Well, that’s true. On every level there’s competition between the two emirates, even street trees.

“Listen, throughout his life, Sheik Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the very same Emirati who united the Emirates in 1970, was a major supporter of the practical benefits of shade trees and fruit-bearing trees, especially the date palms. So he chose the most useful and tough trees, Phoenix dactylifera, Ziziphus spina-christi, Prosopis cineraria…and with supporting irrigation, planted them for desert shelterbelt buffers, along all major highways. And that, that’s what we’re seeing out there right now.”

Chalmers said, “It’s pretty clear Sheik Zayed not only had common sense, but also the wealth, resources and will power to apply it.”

“Exactly, he was special. He and those around him have been quoted numerous times on the subject of trees, saying things like…farmers grow date palms in hareems…a date palm must have its feet in the water and its head in the fires of heaven…dried dates and camel milk on land–dried dates and black tea for the pearlers. C’est vrai, it’s clear Sheik Zayed had the intelligence to demonstrate the better of human qualities–humans caring for plants that in turn themselves serve humans.”

  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon


(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

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