Palm predicaments

Few plants hold as special significance in the Middle East as the date palm. Its fruit has sustained generations during times of shortage.

Few plants hold as special significance in the Middle East as the date palm. Its fruit has sustained generations during times of shortage. It forms part of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And perhaps most famously, the date palm also provides the shape template for three artificial island projects in Dubai.

The decision to ban the import of palm trees from countries registered as suffering from the red palm weevil could prove to be a serious problem for landscaping projects in the UAE, many of which have plans for large numbers of palm trees.

However, palm trees need around 100 litres of precious water every day, more than any other plant, which seems astonishing for a plant that should natively grow in this region. Experts say that date palms naturally grow in tight clusters around oases, such as those found in Al Ain, and not spaced out up and down highways. Spreading palms across vast expanses is really a Western romanticised notion of Arabia, and it�s unsustainable.

The new ban may cause initial difficulty to projects that are currently underway and have plans for vast expanses of palms. But the new restrictions could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. A scarcity of palms will lead to reductions in irrigation costs, promoting more sustainable designs, and might also encourage designers to emulate the true natural beauty of the Arabian Peninsula more frequently. At the very least, it will help everyone remember the true value of the date palm.

James Boley is the assistant editor of Commercial Outdoor Design.

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