IALC Peace Fellowship Report July - September 2005
Graduate Student, 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 for propagation.
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 material.