IALC Peace Fellowship
July - September 2005
School of Landscape Architecture
University of Arizona
Assessing the Capacity of Jordanian Nurseries
to Supply Native Plant Species
From mid-summer 2005 until present, I have been working with
Dr. Ra'ed al-Tabini from the Badia Research & Development Center (BRDC),
Jordan on an inventory of native plant species in both government and commercial
nurseries throughout Jordan. We have so far canvassed the eastern part
of Jordan, most of the Jordan Valley, part of the great Amman area, and
the Petra region. We will complete the inventory in January-February, 2006.
The nursery inventory assesses one aspect of infrastructure necessary to
build a campaign for public awareness and use of native and drought-tolerant
plant species in created landscapes. Simply stated, in order to encourage
xeriscape and effectively promote the use of native species, those species
have to be available. If they are not available, it is important to understand
why in order to form a plan to build infrastructure.
Already at this midpoint in the research, certain very interesting issues
are emerging. We can already state confidently that Jordanian nurseries
do not presently carry sufficient quantities of native trees and medium
shrubs to support a public initiative to encourage the use of native species.
Apart from herbs commonly used for medicinal purposes, native small shrubs
and annuals are virtually non-existent. Certain varieties of native oaks,
especially Cuercus calliprinos and Cuercus aegilops ,
Carob ( Cerratonia siliqua ), Pistachio ( Pistacia palestina ),
and Tamarisk ( Tamarix athel ) are more widely available, but certainly
do not represent the range of Jordanian natives which would be suitable
With a Jordanian colleague also from BRDC we visit nurseries and, after
introducing ourselves, ask in Arabic - as a consumer might - "do you
have any native trees?" With one exception, nursery managers and growers
have not immediately grasped the concept of a "native" plant.
We have used a variety of descriptions, such as "local to Jordan and
Palestine," "wild," "natural," "plants which
grew here since ancient times," etc. (in Arabic, of course), in order
to arrive at a sense of what we are looking for. Even once a basic understanding
has been reached, many non-natives (e.g., eucalyptus, citrus, Mexican fan
palm, Parkinsonia aculeata ) are suggested. These are common trees
in Jordan, certainly, and they have been cultivated for decades or even
centuries - but they are just as certainly not natives. What is interesting
about this is not that the growers/managers are "ignorant," but
rather how we might go about defining native species, the relevance of the
category, and how we might promote the relevance of growing and using natives.
Another issue has emerged which has significance for infrastructure building:
the centralization of the nursery industry in the Amman-Jerash area and
what one might call the "mainstreaming" of inventory in response
to market demand. Outlying areas, particularly in the central plateau, eastern
and southern Jordan, no longer have nurseries at all, either government
or commercial. Due to competition from the huge commercial nurseries in
Amman-Jerash - which have easier access to transportation and resources
(e.g., water, labor) - small commercial nurseries outside this center are
disappearing. This centralization has also resulted in a narrowing of available
species, because it is more commercially feasible to cultivate large numbers
of a few popular species.
Related to this "mainstreaming" is the fact that both government
and commercial nurseries select species for propagation largely on the basis
of market demand. Thus the education of the public and the growers
would be an important aspect of any move to encourage the use of native
and drought-tolerant species in public landscapes.
So far we have encountered one exception to this general profile: the Mashatil
Tabi`i (Natural Nurseries) of Wadi Mousa. It is important to note
that this grower responded to a specific project's demand for native trees
propagated from local seed, and he had considerable, if informal, "education" and
assistance from two agronomists associated with his farmers' association.
This nursery is possibly the only nursery in Jordan able to supply the
Phoenician Juniper ( Juniperus phoenicia ), an endangered species
indigenous to the Petra area. Because of this, Israel's Desert Planning
Institute is seeking to work with the grower to obtain seed stock for
reforestation in the Negev. The Native Nurseries example suggests the
importance of educating growers and identifying markets for native species.
The research thus far has been very exciting, and I feel that we are laying
very practical groundwork for building infrastructure to support the use
of xerophile and native plants in Jordan. Although I have done other research
in Jordan, much of it has been independent, historical work at very specific
sites. Doing the interviews and traveling throughout the country has been
very enlightening - I've also very much enjoyed talk to others, non-scholars,
who are deeply engaged in landscape design in Jordan.
The Peace Fellowship has allowed me to concentrate on one very practical
and focused issue, with the assistance of Jordanian colleagues who have
helped to shape the work in discussion, and who certainly are able to add
nuance to the Arabic interviews. Apart from my colleagues at BRDC, I have
been fortunate to work with the staff of the demonstration farm at the Wadi
Mousa Wastewater Reuse Implementation Project, another IALC funded project.
I encourage anyone who wants an opportunity for a really hands-on, face-to-face
experience doing research and working in another culture to apply for a
Peace Fellowship. This project has given me a very different perspective
than I have had as an independent scholar.
I am most grateful to Dr. Ra'ed al-Tabini of BRDC and to Isma'il at-Twaissi
and Majed al-Hasanat of The Wadi Mousa Reuse Project and PRA, for their
help with the research and for hours of pleasant discussion of the research