International Palm Society LogoThe Red Sea Hyphaene of Saudi Arabia

Reprinted with permission from the January 1996 issue of Principes, Vol 40, No 1
Journal of the International Palm Society

1996 The International Palm Society, all rights reserved

MICHAEL OTIER

United Arab Emirates University, University General Requirements Unit (English) P.O. Box 17172, Al-Ain-United Arab Emirates

Hot, baking deserts, nomadic bedouin with camel caravans and sporadic oases dotted with date palms are typical stereotypes that characterize our awareness of Saudi Arabia. These desert scenes from the past still occasionally permeate contemporary Saudi Arabia.

Fortunately for the palm enthusiast, exotic palm trees occupy certain geographical pockets of Saudi Arabia with greater frequency than the apparently ubiquitous date palm. Recently, I travelled to the Red Sea town of Shuqayq and documented Hyphaene there (Fig. 1). Even among this unusual genus of multi-trunked palms, the variety that is found along the Red Sea and in neighboring "wadis," i.e., valleys, is a particularly alluring species (Fig. 2).

The excursion to the Red Sea is as much an adventure as documenting the Hyphaene. The point of embarkation to the Red Sea was Khamis Mushayt, once reputed as a trading terminal along the Frankincense Road. The distance from Khamis Mushayt to Shuqayq is only 90 miles. The diversity of landscape and vegetation en route, however, is astonishing. Khamis Mushayt is located at 7,000 feet and Shuqayq is at sea level. In contrast to coastal Saudi Arabia, Khamis Mushayt resembles the American Southwest. Weathered granite buttes and plateaus abound in the area with nearby mountain peaks soaring to 9,500 feet.

A dramatic change in scenery occurs not far outside Khamis. After a brief placid drive through the countryside, the road suddenly dives serpentine-fashion from the precipice of an escarpment. The journey continues to be a breathtaking experience until the road reaches sea level. Along the way, sheer canyon walls give way to wide valleys. Road and bridge construction crews wage an ongoing attempt to repair the damage caused by rogue flash floods. Towards the bottom of the escarpment, meadows appear. Occasional banana plantations offer passersby unexpected tropical viewing pleasures in this climatic anomaly. The geographical and climatic variety provide enough diversity to sustain one for the remaining barren drive to Shuqayq.

The typically hum-drum drive from Shuqayq to the remote beach area is now punctuated by sand drifts that present themselves as respectable road barriers. This is the season for the "Kama-seen" winds which originate in eastern Africa. These formidable winds wreak havoc from the western Saudi coast to Yemen. It is common to see brown skies and then have a downpour of mud-rain which results from airborne dust mixing with humid coastal air. The early morning hours, however, provide excellent opportunities to view the Hyphaene (Figs. 3-5)...

This excerpt is just the first half of the article that originally appeared in the January 1996 issue of Principes.  Several color photos accompany the article.  Back issues are available through our online shopping cart while supplies last.

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