After our travelers cross the Red Sea, they find themselves in what is the northwest corner of modern day Saudi Arabia. They walk through desert and wadi and eventually find themselves in the mountain range not far from the crossing.
Many (perhaps most) put the Red Sea crossing in the Western edge of the modern-day Sinai Peninsula and they put Mount Sinai in the Central Southern area of Sinai. My research aligns with those who put the crossing and so forth much further East (so that the Hebrews actually leave Egypt; the modern day Sinai Peninsula area was part of Egypt in ancient times, and remained so until well after any dates attributed to the Exodus).
What plant life would the Hebrews have encountered in Northwest Saudi Arabia? How would it have differed from the coastal Sinai Peninsula of their journey before the Red Sea crossing? And from their life in the Eastern delta of the Nile.
Immediately after the Red Sea crossing, they would have walked through Ras Alsheikh Hamid, “an uninhabited headland” in the Tabuk Province. In fact, all of their post-crossing wanderings through to establishing a camp at Jebel Al-Lawz, the mountain I am presuming is Mount Sinai, are in the Tabuk Province.
Tabuk province could be the most historical of all provinces in the Kingdom and the most beautiful of all coastal areas and beaches. It is the only province that has a good amount of snow falls in every winter. The region’s sand deserts winding through steep and artistic rock formations are stunning sights…Islands and islets are many in the visible distance of coastlines…crystal clear waters of Gulf of Aqaba and Red Sea…Tabuk Province (Splendid Arabia)
People of Thamood, Aramean, and the Nabataean lived here [“more than 8000 years”] in addition to Prophet Shuaib and Prophet Moses whose water springs and well are living signs in the province of Tabuk….Taima remains associated with the Mesopotamian civilization. The Midian and Edomite civilizations, and the Islamic period, including the Mamluk and Ottoman rules are felt by a traveler….
The coastal areas of Tabuk Province are quite humid, as is the Nile Delta area the Hebrews came from and the coastal roads they took in the Sinai Peninsula. Once the Hebrews move away from the coast and into the mountains, it will be more arid.
Summers, from June to August, are hot, with daytime temperatures in the shade exceeding 100 °F (38 °C) in almost all of the country. Temperatures in the desert frequently rise as high as 130 °F (55 °C) in the summer. Humidity is low, except along the coasts, where it can be high and very oppressive.Saudi Arabia (Britanica)
Moving away from the coast takes them to water (wadis are seasonal creeks) but the roads will be slow going.
“In the north, the western highlands are upward of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) above sea level…There are virtually no permanent surface streams in the country, but wadis are numerous. Those leading to the Red Sea are short and steep.Saudi Arabia (Britanica)
[A study of Tabuk investigated] the floristic diversity and phytogeographical distribution of plant species along four sites i.e. Sharma, Alqan, Al-Lwaz Mountains and Alzetah from Tabuk region, Saudi Arabia. A total of 96 species belonging to 75 genera and 38 families (34 dicots and 4 monocots) were recorded. Asteraceae had the highest contribution (12.5% of the total species) followed by Fabaceae (10.42%), Zygophyllaceae (6.25%) and Lamiaceae (5.21%)…Most species belonged to Saharo-Arabian (37.21%), Irano-Turanian (11.63%) and Sudanean (10.47%) elements, and that constitute almost 60% of the total number of plant species. By comparing the plant diversity among the four studied sites, the highest plant diversity was reported in Alqan and Alzetah, while the lowest was reported in Sharma. It was concluded that Tabuk region had remarkable floristic diversity.Floristic Diversity Of Tabuk Province, North Saudi Arabia.
Palm trees are the prominent feature of Elim, an oasis with multiple wells that the Hebrews camp in on their way to Mount Sinai. It’s not far from the Red Sea but is not right on the coast.
Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) in particular are well represented in Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt and many other areas. It does not appear to be native to the Tabuk Province area, but we might imagine that a magically appearing oasis could make use of plants from across the peninsula.
Date fruit itself is well known and has many uses but other parts of the plants are edible or otherwise useful.
Date seeds are soaked and ground up for animal feed….also ground and used in the manner of coffee beans, or as an additive to coffee…Stripped fruit clusters are used as brooms…Wild date palms…can be also tapped for [sweet] sap…Leaves are…used for making huts. Mature leaves are also made into mats, screens, baskets and fans. Processed leaves can be used for insulating board. Dried leaf petioles are a source of cellulose pulp, used for walking sticks, brooms, fishing floats and fuel. Leaf sheaths are prized for their scent, and fibre from them is also used for rope, coarse cloth, and large hats. The leaves are also used as a lulav in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.Date palm (Wikipedia)
Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm. The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity. The flowers of the date palm are also edible. Traditionally the female flowers are the most available for sale and weigh 300–400 grams (11–14 oz). The flower buds are used in salad or ground with dried fish to make a condiment for bread.
Aerva javanica, the kapok bush or desert cotton
It is used for fuel and for fodder for goats. In traditional medicine the seeds are believed to cure headaches. A gargle is made from the plant to try to treat toothache…The thick, white inflorescences have traditionally been harvested in Arabia for stuffing cushions and saddle pads. Today, the soft fibres are still used as kapok for pillows.Aerva javanica (Wikipedia)
The two species of lavender found in the area are Lavandula pubescens (aka downy lavender) and Lavandula coronopifolia.
Haloxylon salicornicum aka Rajasthan
Used as a “famine food” where “seeds mixed with other grains for bread making, young branches eaten.”
Juniperus phoenicea is a large shrub or small tree reaching 5–8 metres (16–26 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 1–2 metres (3 ft 3 in–6 ft 7 in) in diameter and a rounded or irregular crown. The bark, which can be pealed in strips, is dark greyish-brown.Juniperus phoenicea (Wikipedia)
Juniper berries are used as a seasoning in cooking or in alcoholic beverages, particularly to flavor gin. Juniper berries have also been used in traditional medicine for different conditions…Juniper wood is used for small manufactured objects and inlay works in carpentry, and in building construction in Africa where it is mainly used for fuel and producing charcoal.
Umbrella thorn acacia
Vachellia tortilis, widely known as Acacia tortilis…is the umbrella thorn acacia, also known as umbrella thorn and Israeli babool, a medium to large canopied tree native to most of Africa…but also occurring in the Middle East. In extremely arid conditions, it may occur as a small, wiry bush. It grows up to 21 m (69 ft) in height…Flowers are small and white, highly aromatic, and occur in tight clusters. Seeds are produced in pods which are flat and coiled into a springlike structure. The plant is known to tolerate high alkalinity, drought, high temperatures, sandy & stony soils, strongly sloped rooting surfaces and sandblasting…Vachellia tortilis (Wikipedia)
Timber from the tree is used for furniture, wagon wheels, fence posts, cages, and pens. Vachellia wood was also used exclusively by the Israelites in the Old Testament in the building of the tabernacle and the tabernacle furniture, including the Ark of the Covenant. The pods and foliage, which grow prolifically on the tree, are used as fodder for desert grazing animals. The bark is often used as a string medium in Tanganyika, and is a source for tannin. Gum from the tree is edible and can be used as Gum Arabic. Parts of the tree including roots, shoots, and pods are also often used by natives for a vast number of purposes including decorations, weapons, tools, and medicines.
Related to goji berries (Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense) and sometimes called Wolfberry, these species of Boxthorn have edible berries and the leaves are used medicinally to heal wounds in addition to being edible.
The Tabuk Province has both Lycium depressum Stocks and Lycium shawii Roem. & Schult (aka desert thorn or Arabian boxthorn).
Lycium shawii is an erect, spreading, sometimes scandent, intricately branched, very spiny shrub growing 1 – 3 metres tall, exceptionally becoming a small tree up to 4.5 metres tall…Dry to relatively moist areas such as hilly country to the edge of floodplains; riverbanks and dambos; mixed woodland and wooded grassland; extending into miombo mainly on termitaria; cultivated areas and along roadsides….Lycium shawii (Useful Tropical Plants)
Fruit – raw. The globose, red fruit is 3 – 5mm in diameter
Leaves – cooked and eaten as a vegetable. A salty flavour.
This species is much used in traditional medicine in Africa
Another study came up with some different species.
In general terms, the vegetation of Tabuk Region is composed mainly of Chenopods, especially the Salsola tetrandra-Salsola cyclophylla associations. However, a few other xerophytic vegetations can also be seen in some localized centers…Haloxylon salicornicum, Retama reaetam, Pulicaria undulata, Acacia tortilis, and Lycium shawii. On the western sides of the region, Acacia tortilis is dominating…Tree species are rare in this region. However, species like, Acacia raddiana, Maerua crassifolia, Moringa peregrina, Ziziphus spina-christi, etc can be seen in some of the wadis. Other perennials which form into communities in some parts of the region are: Salsola tetrandra, Traganum nudatum, Retama raetam, Artemisia sieberi, Hyoscyamus muticus, Astragalus spinosa, Haloxylon salicornicum, Rhanterium epapposum, Farsetia aegyptiaca, etc…Halophytic vegetation is also dominant in certain salt marsh ecosystems. These include: Pharagmites australis, Tamarix nilotica, Aeluropus lagopoides and Zygophyllum coccineum. A significant number of annual species are also found in the Tabuk region, most of which are belonging to the families, Brassicaceae, Asteraceae and Paplionaceae. Common annual species include: Eremobium lineare, Plantago boissieri, Anthemis melampodina, Cutandia memphitica, Silene villosa, Plantago ciliata, Savignya parviflora, Astragalus schimperi, A. annularis, Ifloga spicata, Trigonella stellata, Astragalus tribuloides, Schimpera arabica, Plantago amplexicaulis, etc.Topography and vegetation of Tabuk Region (from Vegetation of Northern Provinces, Plant Diversity of Saudi Arabia)
The vegetation of Tabuk Region is composed mainly of Chenopods, especially the Salsola tetrandra-Salsola cyclophylla associations.Topography and vegetation of Tabuk Region (from Vegetation of Northern Provinces, Plant Diversity of Saudi Arabia)
What are Chenopods? They refer to the Chenopodioideae subfamily in the Amaranthaceae family (the classifications for these families changed in recent years). It includes spinach, goosefoot, lambsquarters, amaranth, and quinoa, though those specific plants aren’t found in Saudi Arabia.
Salsoloideae is another subfamily of Amaranthaceae and includes saltwort and many grazing plants for cattle. Salsola tetrandra is a small scrub also known as belbel or lharad. Salsola cyclophylla is “5-8 inches high silvery flowers. Prostrate spreading habit.” (A great picture is here)
- Date palm (Wikipedia)
- Chenopods (The Daily Garden; nice pictures)
- Characterization Of Four Salsola Species And Their Genetic Relationship By AFLP. Amal M.E. Abdel-HamidPak. J. Bot., 48(3): 1183-1187, 2016.
- Chenopodioideae (Wikipedia)
- Amaranthaceae (Wikipedia)
- Salsola (Wikipedia)
- Salsola cyclophylla Baker (Flora of Qatar)
- Aerva javanica (Wikipedia)
- Juniperus phoenicea (Wikipedia)
- Vachellia tortilis (Wikipedia)
- Lycium shawii (Useful Tropical Plants)
- Traditional use of ethnomedicinal native plants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Hanan Aati, Ali El-Gamal, Hamdy Shaheen, & Oliver Kayser. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine volume 15, Article number: 2 (2019)
- Wildlife of Saudi Arabia (Wikipedia)
- Native Plants Of Saudi Arabia, John Misachi, WorldAltas, 2017
- Wild plants diversity of Red Sea coastal region, Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. Mohamed M. Moawed and Abid Ali Ansari. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research 7(10):220-227, October 2015.
- Topography and vegetation of Tabuk Region (from Vegetation of Northern Provinces, Plant Diversity of Saudi Arabia)
- Floristic Diversity Of Tabuk Province, North Saudi Arabia. K. Al-Mutairi, S. A. Al-Shami, Z. Khorshid, and M. M. Moawed. The Journal Of Animal & Plant Sciences, 26(4): 2016, Page: 1019-1025.