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MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: “Travels and Plant Collections of Aucher-Éloy, Oman, 1838” by Dr Shahina Ghazanfar

Dr Shahina Ghazanfar, Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, shared the travel experiences of Aucher-Éloy, the first plant collector to work and classify the flora of Oman, with the audience at the fourth lecture of the 2017/18 MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series. This presentation was co-hosted with the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia (BFSA).

Dr Ghazanfar emphasised that Aucher-Éloy was educated by the best botanists of the early 19th century. She spoke about his travels throughout the Middle East which started in Turkey and then continued all the way to Oman, where he spent nearly one month. At a very young age, Aucher-Éloy decided to travel in order to collect plants and then sell them in Paris but died before he could make his way back to France. He was never much appreciated while alive but after his death botanists started to acknowledge how important his work as a collector had proved to be. The plants that Aucher-Éloy described and took note of while in Oman were reported in his journal, which is now partially lost. The species he discovered were new to science and were divulged for the first in Boissier’s book Flora Orientalis. To this day, this volume remains the main reference for any botanist interested in studying the flora of eastern areas of the world.

Modern studies have proved that there are some 1240 plant species in Oman, which makes it the third richest country in the Arabian Peninsula as far as biodiversity is concerned, but only 700 of these are in the northern part of the country, which Aucher-Éloy visited. He was able to report on circa 500 species, which is impressive considering the limited time he spent in the country. Curiously enough, some of the plantations that used to be typical to Oman and fundamental to its export trade, as well as the feeding of the people themselves in Aucher-Éloy’s time, are no longer in existence (e.g. sugar cane), and Oman, in recent times, has been mostly dependent upon imports.

The enthusiastic audience had a very positive response to Shahina’s lecture and a good number of interesting questions was raised during the Q&A session. The MBI Al Jaber Foundation is looking forward to next month’s lecture: “Trump and Brexit – What Impact on Britain’s Relations with the Middle East?”, which will be presented by Chris Doyle, Director of CAABU (Council for Arab British Understanding).

We look forward to welcoming you there!

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