DUBAI // A new park with more than 60 species of indigenous trees and plants has opened on The Palm Jumeirah.
Ittihad Park covers more than 10 hectares and is surrounded by a 3.2 kilometre jogging track.
It is behind the Golden Mile residential development and runs under the track for the Palm Jumeirah Monorail.
Ali Rashid Lootah, chairman of the property developer Nakheel, said making the idea a reality was challenging because landscape designers involved were not used to working with native plants.
"If you really put in an extra effort, you can do it," Mr Lootah said. "We wanted people to be aware we have nice things in our environment that are not utilised."
With no green grass or flowering bougainvillea shrubs, the park looks markedly different from other landscaped areas in the UAE.
Running through the middle is an excavation, covered by stones and gravel and made to resemble a wadi bed. The wadi also acts as a drainage system for the park, said Fadi Khalife, design director at Cracknell, a landscape architecture company that worked on the project.
Even with some water running through the wadi, the park's water footprint is smaller than a conventional park.
"Most of these plants survive with limited amounts of water," he said. "Right now, many of them are blooming because they have been given a little bit more water than they are used to in the wild."
At peak times, the park will consume about 620 cubic metres of water per day. Cracknell has worked on other projects using local or adapted plants but this is the first time it is using only local plants.
The project, Mr Khalife said, was difficult because native plants are not available in UAE nurseries.
"It was a little bit challenging because of the typology of desert plants - they grow big roots in search of water," he said.
The plants used in the project were propagated by seeds collected in the wild and grown in Nakheel's own nursery. It took about two months to design the park and almost a year to build it.
Among the selection of plants is Boerhavia elegans, locally known as Oshbat um Salam. A shrub with long, tender stems, the plant blossoms small purple flowers. In the wild, it is found on mountain slopes or in valleys, growing among rocks. It was once used to make traditional remedies to alleviate malaria symptoms.
Also featured in the park is Dipterygium glaucum, popularly known as Saffar. In the wild, this small shrub with pretty yellow flowers is usually seen in deserts, especially in coastal areas with high soil salinity.
Wadi inhabitants such as Farfar are also featured in the park. A tree with narrow, pale-green leaves, it is known to scientists as Tecomella undulata. Blossoming in vivid yellow and orange, this is one of the few plants in the park that has been used in landscaping in the country.
The park is already proving popular with residents. "I have lived here for two years now. Before, this was just sand, it was very bad," said Esra Sarisu, 33, from Turkey. "Now we do not need to go anywhere else to run or walk, we can come here. It is very good."
Mr Lootah said Nakheel plans to use the native plant concept in future.
"We will introduce the same type of landscape in our other projects," he said.
Work is expected to start soon on landscaping in Jumeirah Village, he said.