A broad outline on the

History of Botanical Studies in Saudi Arabia.







History of Taxonomy

                  Among the Arab writers, A.H.Dinawari (895 A.D.) in his book "Kitab al Nabat", had given a comprehensive knowledge of the agriculture and medicinal practices of the Bedouins. His book was one of the standard works of those years for lexicologists, ethnobotanists, etc. Other known collectors who lived from tenth to fourteenth centuries, such as Istakhri (915-919 A.D.), Idrisi (11153 A.D.), A.Al-Fida (1331 A.D.) have also written about Arabian plants. Subsequently several Muslim travelers and plant collectors visited the country over a period of 500 years or so and studied the vegetation of Arabian Peninsula, with special emphasis on the study of medicinal plants. Their findings have been depicted in various books and reports.

                    Serious interest in the flora of Arabia (Arabia Felix) had started during the time of Peher Forsskal (1736-1763). During his stay in the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, he had collected a significant number of plants both from Yemen and Jizan Region. Some of these plants were described as new in the posthumous publication "Flora Aegyptiaca-Arabica" by Niebuhr (1775). This was the only source for Botanical studies during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Later in 1825, Ehrenberg visited some of the Red Sea Islands, mainly to study microorganisms. However, none of the collectors (including Ehrenberg-1820-26, Aucher-Eloy-1830, Kotschy and Schimper-1836, Anderson-1859, Pelley 1865, Balfour-1880, Schweinfurth-1888, Deflers-1893) had left any extensive notes, which depicts the collection records from any region north of Sa'dah in Yemen. In 1833, J.R. Wellsted traveled along the southern coast of Arabia and collected some plants. E. Combes nad M.O. Tamisier, towards the middle of the 19th century, accompanied an Egyptian expedition team to the mountains of Asir. Their records were published in the "Voyage en Abssinie et 1` Arabie" in 1851. The early part of the twentieth century had witnessed the activities of a few collectors such as Musil-1909 and Philby-1917. E. Blatter (1919-1936) compiled most of the major and minor collections of the previous visitors and published a detailed checklist of the wild plants of Arabia (Flora Arabica).

Cover page of the Forsskal's book  (1775)

During and after the transformation from a loose tribal confederation to a more organized monarchial state in 1936, the development of science in Saudi Arabia, particularly in matters associated with wild plants had progressed in a steady manner.


The collections of DeMarco (DeMarco & Dinelli, 1974), as part of the work of Italconsult Company for the survey of Agriculture Development, and Mandaville (Saudi Aramco during 1960's) were also remarkable. These collections were deposited in the British Herbaria. In the second half of the previous century plant collection activities were intensified by the active support of University staff such as  A.M. Migahid,    A.El-Sheikh, U. Bairele, P. Kong, H.M. Hassan, H.A. Abulfatih, etc. Most of these collections are deposited in the Herbarium (KSU) of Botany & Microbiology, King Saud University, Riyadh. As a result of these collections, the first edition of the Flora of Saudi Arabia by Migahid and Hammouda appeared in 1974 and the subsequent second and third editions by Migahid in 1978 and 1988-1990 respectively. Despite all these collections, the intensity of the explorations by various scientists in this region remains unabated.

A large number of publications have also been appeared in the past two decades, featuring the ecology and flora of the south-western region. Due to these intense collections and subsequent studies on plants, the number of species belonging to Saudi Arabia has increased many folds, some of which were new to science.


             Among the plant collections in Saudi Arabia, it is worth mentioning the name of S. Collenette (1972-1999) as she had contributed quite a lot to the present knowledge of our flora. Most of her collections are deposited in the Royal Botanic Gardens (E), Edinburgh and RBG, Kew (K), a set of which is also deposited at the National Herbarium (RIY) of the Ministry of Agriculture. Apart from the above collections, large and small contributions of various scientists, conservationists and students have also been deposited in various herbaria.

            Among the new collections deposited in various herbaria, the collections of S. Chaudhary and Jacob Thomas (Herbarium-RIY, Ministry of Agriculture), Ahmed Alfarhan and Jacob Thomas (Herbarium-  KSU, King Saud University), T.Al-Turki (Herbarium -MUZ, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology) are worth mentioning.

Text written and managed by Dr. Jacob Thomas Pandalayil, Herbarium (KSU), King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.