The Ghaf tree is one of the indigenous trees that are abundant in the desert of the UAE and is associated with the heritage and history of the region for its benefits in the lives of ancestors in the past.
The Ghaf is a drought-tolerant tree, which can remain green even in harsh desert environments. It is essential for the survival of animal and plant species alike. The Ghaf is the national tree of the UAE as it is a historic and cultural symbol of stability and peace in the UAE’s desert environment.
The tree was declared the national tree of the UAE in 2008 thanks to its cultural and traditional significance. Ghaf trees can live for up to 120 years on average, traditionally Ghaf leaves and pods provided food and its nutritious branches were used for livestock. The tree was also traditionally used for its medicinal properties.
According to UAE Federal Law No. 24 of 1999, it is prohibited to cut wild plants, uproot them or collect them illegally. The country takes strict measures on any felling of local trees with special regard for the Ghaf trees, which has massive adverse effects on the native biodiversity In 2019, the Ghaf Tree was chosen as a symbol for the Year of Tolerance exemplifying its role as a historic and cultural symbol of stability and peace in the UAE’s desert environment. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan paid great attention to the Ghaf and issued laws and regulations prohibiting the cutting of the tree throughout the country.
For the Expo 2020 Dubai opening ceremony’s final act, Al Wasl Plaza was transformed into a magical garden with dancers in fantastical costumes representing blossoming flowers. At the centre of the stage rose a huge silver and white Ghaf tree. The tree range from three to five metres, and its roots can go as deep as 30 metres, which is one of the reasons they can survive the harsh summer.
A lone Ghaf tree at the Expo 2020 Dubai site, estimated to be more than 70 year old, was preserved when construction first began. In 2019, organisers released an animated film in its honour, detailing how it has endured the harsh desert conditions through changing times.
Expo 2020 Dubai has established a number of main focus areas and a set of key performance indicators that revolve around achieving sustainability, including enhancing the environmental value of the site and promoting local plant species, where millions of plants have been produced in agricultural nurseries, more than 14,000 trees, 2,500 palm trees and 35 million shrubs and more than 460 Ghaf trees.
As for the sustainability pavilion, Ghaf had another presence, Mona Al Ali, Senior Manager, Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai, in a statement to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), said that the Ghaf tree is well known and was chosen in the pavilion to allow visitors to view its roots through a periscope, which reveals its roots that go deep into the soil in search of water and nutrients, showing how these plants live in this region and can withstand the desert environment.
“To adapt to the scarcity of water in the desert, each species of plants has developed its method to deal with water scarcity,” she pointed out.
“Let’s take Ghaf trees as an example. They derive their need from freshwater by extending their roots and pushing them into the ground to depths of tens of meters.”