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People ignore them, refer to them as a nuisance or even call them a ‘blot on the landscape’, but the botanical family ‘prosopis’ serves many useful purposes and should, especially in desert, coastal and urban areas, be encouraged to grow.

There are quite a number of prosopis species scattered throughout Pakistan, but although they prefer the lowlands, plains and foothills to higher altitudes, they are rarely found there.

Found mainly in the form of small, oddly twisted trees and shrubs which most people avoid due to their sharp thorns, this botanical family of plants includes the wonderfully fragrant mimosa or prosopis farcta,  so loved by buyers and florists alike. Uncommon in the wild, but occasionally found in and around Peshawar, mimosa has, on a very small scale, been cultivated for its gorgeously perfumed blooms in a few areas of the Punjab.

Extremely drought-tolerant, with some varieties being saline-tolerant too, ‘camel thorn’ – as prosopis is sometimes called – can be used to hold sand dunes in the desert in place, all the while helping alleviate the terrible effects of rapidly escalating climate change. (It is called camel thorn because camels can, with extreme care, munch away on even the thorniest species.)

The less prickly species are harvested as animal fodder by villagers, nomadic herders and by urban animal keepers; the branches can be used as wood fuel for heating and cooking. Its pendulous seed pods are used as animal fodder, although how much nutrient value they have is questionable.

Some species make excellent charcoal; the wood of species such as prosopis cineraria (known as jahu in Urdu and Punjabi and kandi in Sindhi) is used to build houses, boats, tool handles and fence posts.

All prosopis species fix nitrogen in the soil so the soil underneath their leaf canopy is incredibly fertile and, for those in the know, in high demand.

– B Khan

First published in The Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on January 12, 2014.