Euphorbia - Fieldwork Activities

Oman, Sep - Oct 2008

Participant: Jeff Morawetz

I spent 4 weeks collecting Euphorbia in Oman, which was my first international botanical expedition outside of Africa. After spending a few days in Muscat, the capital, to organize my collecting permit and visit the National Herbarium (ON), I headed down to the southern region of Dhofar. At this time of year the monsoon (khareef) had just ended, so the coastal region around the city of Salalah was lush and green. This was quite a shock after the 8 hour drive through the central gravel desert, cresting one hill and having the landscape change drastically as if in a dream; it was unforgettable and amazing. Dhofar is rich in Euphorbia diversity, and I was able to collect 8 species on my first day in the field! I spent my time in Dhofar searching the environs from Salalah westwards toward the Yemeni border, eastward nearly to the coastal town of Hasik, and also inland from Ayun and Hijayf across to Madinat Al Haqq. I was able to collect several members of the E. larica complex (E. dhofarensis, E. aff. dhofarensis, E. aff. larica, E. schimperi, E. aff. schimperi, E. aff. uzmuk) which are poorly understood and quite fascinating to observe, in addition to the very interesting dwarf succulent E. hadramautica (my favorite Omani Euphorbia, and the first species I collected in the country), the tree species E. smithii, the only spine-shield in Oman, E. cactus, the shrubby E. balsamifera subsp. adenensis, and a couple of the Chamaesyce group. Also from Dhofar I was able to collect other Euphorbiaceae, such as the endemic Jatropha dhofarica, the regionally restricted Croton confertus, as well as the widespread Arabian weed Chrozophora oblongifolia.

Camel swarm, Jebel Qara.

Fruits of Euphorbia dhofarensis

From Dhofar I sped across the desert heading up to Masirah Island, home to the endemic E. masirahensis, also a member of the E. larica complex. This visit was complicated by the cancellation of the late ferry to the island (I arrived around 7 pm after driving all day from Salalah, I probably could have made it earlier, but some Euphorbia's caught my eye at the beginning of the day, thus slowing me down a bit), and there aren't any hotels anywhere within at least a 200 km radius of the ferry terminal, so I spent the night cramped in the back seat of the LandCruiser. The upside was that I woke with the rising sun (very early) and caught the first ferry over in the morning, arriving before 8 am (I was headed back to the mainland on the 12:00 ferry). From Masirah I headed inland into the northern mountains, to the Sayq Plateau and Jebel Akhdar. In an otherwise very dry area, Jebel Akhdar has some fertile valleys and wadis hidden among its domain. This is where I collected E. larica for the first time. It occurs commonly throughout northern Oman, and I collected it from through the range, from Buraymi and Rustaq to Sur. I also collected species of the Chamaesyce group throughout this range (yet to be ID'd, but should include E. granulata, E. indica, E. hirta and E. serpens). The real delight from northern Oman was finding the shrubby sand dune Chamaesyce species E. riebeckii from the eastern coast just north of Qurun. It has a rhizome that can be buried in the sand!

Euphorbia riebeckii

Cyathium of E. riebeckii

E. hadramautica

E. smithii

Cyathia of E. smithii

I would like to thank the people who helped me with my trip, such as Azza Al Jabri at the National Herbarium (and her husband Majid who arranged my car hire), Amina Al Farsi who curates the herbarium at Sultan Qaboos University, and Annette Patzelt, senior botanist of the nascent Oman Botanic Gardens. This facility will be amazing when it's completed, and Annette is working hard to train the staff and get cultivations underway (they've already got a good start!), as well as obtaining the clearance from the Ministries to send herbarium specimens and DNA material to researchers around the world. Keep your eyes on these developments at! I give an extra-special thanks to the Department of Biodiversity at the Ministry of the Environment, specifically Ali Al Kiyumi, Saleh Al Saadi, and the Director of Biodiversity, Salim Musalam Al Saady, for allowing me to collect and export my specimens from the Sultanate of Oman.

Sand dunes near Ashkharah

Scenery, Jebel Akhdar

Ants visiting cyathia of E. schimperi

Fort Near Sur

Euphorbia cactus (succulent cactoid plant) and E. balsamifera subsp. adenensis (round shrub)

© PBI Euphorbia Project