• Oman Botanic Garden: A Unique Desert Botanic Garden in the Making

      Oliver, Ian B. (University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ), 2014)
      The Sultanate of Oman is an old sea-faring country located in southeastern Arabia. The coastline of Oman is approximately 1750 km long. It extends from the Musandam peninsula in the north of the country, which includes the important sea-lane of the Straits of Hormuz, to the border with Yemen in the south. Neighboring countries are the United Arab Emirates to the north, Saudi Arabia to the west and Yemen to the south. The Sultanate has a free market economy. Oil and gas are its biggest drivers. However, because of the realization that the oil reserves will not last forever, one of the initiatives is to capitalize on tourism. Scenically, Oman is an extremely beautiful country; it offers everything from pristine beaches and fascinating rugged mountains where terraced agriculture is practiced very successfully, to rolling red desert sands that stretch as far as the eye can see. Then, in the south, there is the unique escarpment of the southern mountains of Dhofar, whose seasonal mists attract vast numbers of tourists in the height of the season every year. In 2012 Oman was voted one of the world’s top tourist destinations. It is a country where one can still see the real Arabia without too much glitz and glamour. The best time to enjoy its unique beauty and attractions is from November through mid- April. These are the coolest months of the year. Climatically, Oman is a hot country. Typically summers along the coastline and in Muscat can reach a maximum of 48°C and may be unbearably humid during the months of August and September. Inland temperatures may exceed 51°C. The higher mountainous areas can reach 32°C in summer. Winters, which are generally from late November till mid-March, are cool and mild with rain falling mainly in January. Maximum winter temperatures in Muscat do not normally exceed 25°C and the minimum temperature is around 8°C. The higher Hajar mountains (2800 m - 3000 m) experience freezes (-3°C) and occasionally receive light snow in mid-winter. The annual rainfall in Muscat is approximately 120 mm. Tropical cyclones are rare but in recent years have caused severe damage along the coast and inland as well - for example, Cyclone Gonu in June 2007. The Oman Botanic Garden project was promulgated by Royal Decree in 2006. The GPS coordinates for the garden are North 23° 33’ 35.65’’ and East 58° 07’ 50.95’’. The garden is a first for Oman and for the Gulf region as a whole, as it will focus almost entirely on the native flora of this country alone. The Oman Botanic Garden nursery is tasked with growing all the plants needed for this massive undertaking. In addition to native Omani plants, the plants of the ancient agricultural terraces will also be cultivated and displayed: Damascus roses, citrus, deciduous stone fruits, pomegranates and date palms. Most of the deciduous fruit trees and roses grown in Oman are cultivated on the cooler mountain terraces and irrigated using the ancient falaj (water canal) system. Some of these working falaj systems are hundreds of years old—the canals are constructed of stone and mortar. The more modern falaj are built of block and cement. All falaj work on gravity and the keeper of the canal ensures that equal amounts of water are allocated on a daily basis to those who own plots on the agricultural terraces. The garden is situated northwest of the capital city, Muscat, on 420 ha of nature reserve. It is within easy reach of the international airport (20 minutes) and the main Sultan Qaboos Harbor (45 minutes). Arid, undulating topography, interspersed with seasonal wadi systems (intermittent streams), is fairly common on the Oman Botanic Garden site. Lower hill slopes are covered mainly in Acacia tortilis. To the south and west, one can make out the Western Hajar mountain system.