15 March 2023

Desert Hyacinth – Al Uqayr

Whilst birdwatching near Al Uqayr in late February I saw a large number of Desert Hyacinth Cistanche tubulosa. The Desert Hyacinth is a widely distributed annual that produces a dense pyramid spike of bright yellow flowers topped by maroon-tinted buds. The yellow flowers do not smell very nice and flies are attracted to the smell and carry the pollen on their legs from plant to plant helping with pollination. They are parasitic, one of several such plants in Arabia, and live off other plants to gain their nutritional needs, as they have no green parts or leaves to synthesize chlorophyll directly. The many tiny seeds may remain dormant for years until the roots of the host plant are close enough to trigger germination. It is one of the showiest plants of Eastern Arabia with bright yellow, dense column of flowers sometimes approaching one metre in height. It has varying flower colour with the flowers either tightly packed in the spike or loose. They are widespread on sandy or sandy-silty ground and can tolerate saline environments as well as disturbed conditions, so are often seen growing near roads or tracks in the desert or along the shores of the Arabian Gulf. They flower from early January to early April each year.