Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dubai in flames

Dubai, a city in flames
Since I came back to Dubai after a one-month stint in Beirut, the city has been in flames!
No, don’t panic… There’s no need to call the fire brigade. The city is on fire through a spectacular tree that is blooming all over the place.

I immediately wanted to take pictures of these beautiful and fiery trees and write about their magnificence, but I didn’t know their botanical name.

I have been a journalist and in publishing all my life, and have now embarked on copywriting, but deep down I think I always wanted to be a gardener. Although I love plants and flowers, I know little about them and their species. 

My gardenias, by the way, are still in “hospital” at the back of the garden (Gardenias, roses and TLC, February 8, 2011).

Back in Beirut one week later, I went to a book exhibition at the Lebanese American University (LAU) to honor its alumni authors.

It was my break! Environmentalists and authors Dr. Ahmad Houri and Nisrine Machaka-Houri were among the more than 35 participating writers. I was sure they could help me.

The couple is constantly hiking around Lebanon researching and photographing plants and flowers. They published their first book covering 240 species, “Photographic Guide to Wildflowers of Lebanon,” in 2001 after failing to find a guide on the market. The second volume, covering 400 wild plants in Lebanon, was published in 2008.

The magnificent Delonix regia ... of the top five most beautiful flowering trees in the world
When I explained about the Dubai flame tree, Nisrine said to take a picture and email it to her. This is what I did after returning to my Dubai home three days later. Nisrine replied immediately. I had titled my email “flame tree,” and I wasn’t far-off.

The botanical name of the tree is Delonix regia, with other known English names such as Royal Poinciana, Flamboyant Tree, Flame Tree, Peacock Flower and Gulmohar.

I learned it is a spectacular spring bloomer -- although spring in Dubai is more of a forerunner of the long, scorching months ahead. It is also consistently voted one of the top five most beautiful flowering trees in the world and maybe the most colorful flowering tree as well. It blooms in dense clusters that burst into scarlet orange blossoms in May, June, and sometimes July.

Related to the tamarind and mimosa tree, my flaming tree is a native of Madagascar. It is a tropical legume with fernlike leaves and brown seedpods two inches long.

It reportedly has many qualities and uses. The flowers are reputed to produce bee forage. The large pods as well as the wood are used for fuel. The seeds contain gum used in textile and food industries. The bark has medicinal properties.

I was extremely thankful to Nisrine Machaka-Houri for sending me all this information and kept stopping to take pictures for Mich Café every time I saw one. Except that these magnificent trees are everywhere and I kept getting sidetracked by another favorite of mine, the palm tree. 

A palm tree heavy with fruit
The date stems wrapped in green mesh
Palms are now heavy with ripening fruit, in the countdown to the Holy Month of Ramadan – starting around August 1 this year. 

The date stems of palm trees around villas are usually wrapped in green mesh to protect them and gather the falling fruit.

One of the gateways to Dubai's Al Safa Park
Then I thought where better to see the magnificent Flamboyant Tree blooms than in Dubai’s enchanting Al Safa Park?

After paying my AED 3 entrance fee, I walked around this Dubai treasure where the “flames” guided me, from one to the other. I know there are many more clusters and rows on the sides of Sheikh Zayed Road, but it was too hot to walk all the way across the 158-acre park.

Al Safa Park is vast, clean, well-kept and an oasis of nature in the middle of the bustling city. There were so many different sounds and sights to take in that you don’t know which direction to take.  I walked and walked, in search of my flames.

The park's central lake
Al Safa Park contains three lakes, but I only reached the first central one with a fountain in the middle and little boats for hire. There are over 200 bird species in the park and the Royal Poinciana is one among 16,924 different trees and bushes.

My little digital camera was never quick enough to capture the stunning birds I saw. I tried to follow one, a parrot I think. It had blue, orange, yellow and red plumage it was proudly showing off and teasing me with. The crows, on the other hand, didn’t budge!

Burj Khalifa seen from Al Safa Park
The skyscrapers in the background
Walking around the lake with Burj Khalifa and other skyscrapers in the background is mindboggling.
With so many native plants, flowers and birds around the Emirates, I wish Ahmad and Nisrine Houri are invited to take part in one of our book fairs in Dubai, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi. Imagine if they could be commissioned to research and publish a “photographic field guide to wild flowers of the United Arab Emirates!”

Palm and Flame Trees often side-by-side
Until then, thank you Nisrine for properly introducing me to Delonix regia and for your help in making this post possible.

You can see more Flame Trees and walk around Al Safa Park with me in pictures.
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