From Wadi Hasa, we ascended a long road of switchbacks, up to 1000 m.a.s.l., while still travelling west, and from the town of Al Karak, we descended, for a mere 20 linear km, to the Dead Sea, lowest place on Earth and part of the Dead Sea Rift, a fault line between the Arabian and African tectonic plates. Here, just 80 kms from the montane forests where we started, in the so-called Feifa Forest, which more resembles a savanna, we admired Afro-tropical vegetation dominated by tree species commonly found in the Sahel region, south of the Sahara desert, but almost nowhere else in Jordan or Israel.
Travelling north along the Dead Sea shore, we also saw shrubby forms of Salvadora persica, and date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, growing wild in the rocks…Finally at one site only, called Zara, 10 km north of the Mujib bridge, we were thrilled to see a dozen or more huge Moringa trees and a few tree-like Capparis decidua, in a small abandoned field surrounded by fields planted with vegetable crops.
In all three segments of our Med-Dead transect, we observed canopies that were fragmented, but clearly visible and hosting mixed communities of trees in natural associations. These provide marvelous reference systems for those who would engage in restoration in this country or any of its neighbors where the same patterns and ecosystem types occur.
In many cases, we found tree species showing a remarkable degree of plasticity, or malleability, both in shape and in habitat, including Rhus tripartita, Retama raetam, Amygdalus arabica and Rhamnus palaestina. We also saw near ubiquitous signs of the ravages of goats and sheep. Only in a few places during our trip, and most notably at the Ajloun nature reserve, did we see places spared their impact.
Having recently been on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, where goats were eradicated a mere 7 years ago, and where vegetation is leaping back, we can’t help but wish it were possible to do large scale experiments here…
But just like Mexico, the socioeconomic situation is complex and conservation and restoration are challenging. Woodcutting for firewood is one major problem, because most people rely on wood as their sole source of energy for heating and cooking.
Invasive plants are another problem, such as the South American mesquite tree, intentionally introduced and now spreading widely, with help of sheep, goats, and camels that relish the fleshy pods.
Despite these obstacles, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN), an NGO, and its Botanic Garden, are cause for hope, not only here, but throughout the Middle East. Here’s to Jordan, where all trees are protected by law, and to the RSPN and RBG Jordan, and here’s a tribute in particular to HRH Basma Bint Ali, the Garden’s founder. In the context of the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens, there is indeed hope for the future.