Habitats in the Western Desert



1. Desert sandy and rocky plains

Extreme habitat, mostly without any vegetation. Single xerophyllous plant survive in some rock crevices.

Characteristic species: Devera tortuosa, Bassia eriophora, Haloxylon salicornium, Zygophyllum album.

2. Desert wadis

Little less extreme habitat occurring within desert plains. Wadis are old drainage channels that formed during wetter period of the past. After every rain, underground water collects in old channels and makes environment less harsh for the plant growth.

Characteristic species: Acacia tortilis, Bassia eriophora, Haloxylon salicornium, Pulicaria undulata, Zygophyllum album.

3. Abandoned settlements and edges of cultivation.

Transition from the desert to agricultural areas (either cultivated at present or sometime in the past). Some Calligonum polygonoides and Tamarix spp. shrubs form vegetation mounds (sometimes called phytogenic mounds of phreatophytic mounds; locally named agool). At least some of these hillock structures are many centuries old and represent remains of vegetation at once irrigated areas.

Characteristic species: Alhagi graecorum, Calligonum polygonoides, Desmostachya bipinata, Stipagrostis scoparia, Tamarix amplexicaulis, Tamarix aphylla, Tamarix nilotica, Tamarix passerinoides.

4. Salt marches

Soluble salts are omnipresent in the desert environment. Sometimes they reach extreme concentrations, like along the shores of shallow water basins, where water from irrigation collects. In such conditions, despite they grow in wetlands, plants suffer lack of water due to extreme osmotic potential of the soil.

Characteristic species: Aleuropus lagopoides, Centaurium tenuiflorum, Spergularia media, Frankenia hirsuta, Phragmites australis (in a nanic form).

5. Highly saline agricultural land

Due to irrigation that uses mineral-rich artesian water and due to high evaporation, agricultural lands (both fields and pastures) tend to become highly saline. Finally, they can be even lost for production this way.

Characteristic species: Spergularia media, Aleuropus lagopoides, Frankenia hirsuta, Juncus acutus, Juncus rigidus, Phragmites australis (usually in a nanic form), Salsola tetragona, Sarcocornia fruticosa.

6. Spring edges and canal banks

Natural springs are located in Western Desert oases, but they give only little amount of water. Since very old times, numerous wells were dug to supply water to people and animals and to irrigate agricultural land. Today, the water table in the underground reservoir has dropped significantly down due to intensive exploitation. Now, wells several hundreds of meters deep must be drilled down with heavy machinery and water is pumped out using Diesel engines. From these, water collects in small ponds and is distributed by small ditches.

Characteristic species: Bolboschoenus glaucus, Cynodon dactylon, Cyperus laevigatus, Eleocharis palustris, Fimbristylis sieberiana, Lotus glaber, Mentha longifolia, Oxalis corniculata, Panicum coloratum, Paspalidium geminatum, Phragmites australis, Plantago major, Polypogon monspeliensis, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum, Pycreus polystachyos, Rumex dentatus, Sonchus maritimus, Typha domingensis, Utricularia gibba, Utricularia inflexa, Zannichellia palustris.

7. Cereal fields

Besides dates, cereals are the most traditional agricultural product in the Western Desert - namely wheat (Triticum), dakhn (Pennisetum glaucum) and dura (Sorghum bicolor). In the last decades, maize is often cultivated. As herbicides are unknown stuff among locals, weeds are numerous in the fields. This is especially true for omnipresent weedy oat - Avena barbata.

Characteristic species: Amaranthus graecizans, Amaranthus viridis, Ammi majus, Avena barbata, Lolium temulentum, Melilotus messanensis, Melilotus segetalis, Plantago arenaria.

8. Other cultivated ground

As local families are the main owner of the land, agricultural ground is finely patterned. Many kinds of crop and herbs are cultivated in the fields and garden plots. Widely cultivated is also fodder for domestic animals – namely alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and clover (Trifolium alexandrinum). Fallow land is usually grazed. Variety of individual management practices induces high diversity of weed flora.

Characteristic species: Ambrosia maritima, Centaurea calcitrapa, Cichorium endivia, Convolvulus arvensis, Emex spinosa, Euphorbia helioscopia, Euphorbia peplus, Fumaria densiflora, Chenopodium murale, Imperata cylindrica, Lathyrus hirsutus, Malva parviflora, Phalaris minor, Portulaca oleracea, Solanum nigrum, Solanum villosum, Sonchus maritimus, Sonchus oleraceus, Urospermum picroides, Vicia sativa.


9. Orchards

Economy of the Western Desert oases is largely based on the production of excellent-quality dates. Date palm (Phoenix dactilifera) orchards are most distinctive feature of the inhabited parts of the oases when viewing from the distance. Besides date palm, also olive (Olea europaea), fig (Ficus carica) and apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris) are widely cultivated. Other fruit trees are grown as well (like pomegranate, guava, mango), but only as single trees or in the shade of date palms. Weeds growing in the orchards must be tolerant to permanent shade.

Characteristic species: Ambrosia maritima, Anagalis arvensis, Bidens pilosa, Calendula arvensis, Centaurea calcitrapa, Centaurium tenuiflorum, Cichorium endivia, Cyperus rotundus, Plantago lagopus, Pluchea dioscoridis, Trifolium resupinatum.

10. Inside towns and villages

Being very dry and often full of toxic substances, narrow streets and yards of the settlements are often without any vegetation. Some weeds are only present at localized watered places like ornamental patches and decorative lawns lining some roads.

Characteristic species: Conyza bonariensis, Cynodon dactylon, Euphorbia hirta, Lolium perene, Polypogon monspeliensis.

11. Abandoned agricultural land and disturbed ground

Management practices within Western Desert oases are sometimes unsystematic and random, especially in the transition from cultural land to desert. In such places, tolerant rhizomatous species often grow.

Characteristic species: Ambrosia maritima, Aeluropus lagopoides, Alhagi graecorum, Desmostachya bipinata, Tamarix aphylla, Tamarix nilotica, Tamarix passerinoides.

12. Transition from the desert to the Mediterranean zone

Due to its relative high rainfall, the coastal belt that extends from Alexandria west to Salum, is characterized by the richest and most diverse flora. It is difficult to draw exact borderline between the coastal zone and the desert as the transition is rather gradual. In this Atlas we deal only with the very transition formed by semi-deserts at stony plains (hamadas).

Characteristic species: Adonis dentata, Anacyclus monacanthos, Asparagus stipularis, Asphodelus tenuifolius, Atractylis carduus, Echium angutifolium, Gymnarrhena micrantha, Linaria haelava, Lobularia libyca, Moraea mediterranea, Orobanche cernua, Plantago crypsoides, Plantago ovata, Salvia lanigera, Scorzonera undulata.