Monday, February 15, 2010
The Egyptian low desert is an interesting place. On initial inspection, one tends to focus on the vast expanse of sand and rock that stretch from the edge of the floodplain until the slopes of the high cliffs. But after a closer look one begins to see plants and animals that make their home in this dry and dusty environment. There are not many plants that can live in this arid zone, but one that seems to be quite at home at our site is camelthorn or camel’s thorn, which is called agool in Arabic.
This plant has an extensive root system that helps it find any moisture around the plant. Camelthorn grows in low to the ground in a bushy kind of way and seems harmless until you get to close. We all have a healthy respect for the plant because of the numerous and extremely sharp thorns that each branch carries. Removing it from the site so we can work is not easy, especially as work gloves are not traditional in Egypt. Instead, the Egyptians have developed their own technique for getting the plant out of their way. After cutting the stem near the root with a hoe-like tool called a tureya, the plant is pushed onto a woven litter; ours was made from a bamboo-like reed and wire. Then the plant can be carried away from the site.As a side note, the US has its own problems with camelthorn because in 1915 seeds entered the US as unsuspected guests in a shipment of alfalfa seeds. Released into the wild, camelthorn now presents a problem for our western states.
Not everything dislikes camelthorn, camels can eat it and at our site, a pair of small pretty birds,which are Crested Larks (Galerida cristata), spend their early morning and afternoon hours poking around the plants. They like the camelthorn’s seeds and the insects that hide among the plants.
Diana Craig Patch