Global Plants Day Debuts in Saudi Arabia

KAUST observes the 2015 Fascination of Plants Day (FOPD)

Today, Saudi Arabia becomes the first country in the GCC to observe Fascination of Plants Day (FOPD), due to the efforts of the KAUST Center for Desert Agriculture. This global event is an effort led by the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO) to raise awareness about plants and plant science. In its third year, over 50 countries will observe FOPD, 26 of which are outside of continental Europe.

"The importance of plants for providing food and feed is essential to every country in the world. However, a particularity of the Middle East is its extreme arid and hot climate conditions, which are major limiting factors for agricultural production," said Heribert Hirt, professor of bioscience and director of KAUST's Center for Desert Agriculture (CDA).

Hirt is the former president of the EPSO, which gives him a unique perspective on bringing FOPD to the Middle East. "The EPSO started Fascination of Plants Day to raise awareness about the importance of plants in all facets of human life. In fact it's the first and only world initiative that focuses on the importance of plants for human life," said Hirt.

Thinking long term

The importance of plant science and global food security is integral to KAUST's mission, with much of its research focused around food, water and the environment. "We're not just talking about potted plants or trees along the street. We're talking about issues as diverse as medicines to cure illness to everyday items like comfortable cotton shirts," said Maged Saad, national coordinator of FOPD for Saudi Arabia and CDA research scientist.

Saad's research interests include plant bacteria and desert rhizospheres. He's excited about helping to bring FOPD to his home country, and he talks openly about preserving the environment for his two daughters and the millions of Saudi children like them.

"It's easy to cut a tree—it only takes a minute. Sometimes we must wait a lifetime for a new one to grow," said Saad. "Getting rid of forests because we want a space for our amusement isn't a wise thing to do."

A unique resource

"Researchers at the CDA are using the latest genetic and genomic techniques to focus on the challenges of growing plants under the extreme environmental conditions found in the Middle East, such as limited access to water, heat and high salinity," said Hirt.

The CDA greenhouse is part laboratory and part classroom. Around 1600 square meters in size, the facility has 18 temperature and humidity controlled growth rooms that are fed with filtered seawater. Researchers have everything they need on hand: chemical storage, cold storage, growth chambers, autoclaves and more. There is even a headhouse, which functions as a meeting and learning space.

The CDA is "probably the only research institution in the region that has the expertise and technology to perform such research. The CDA plays a major role in educating future scientists to identify and solve regional problems with highly sophisticated molecular techniques," said Hirt.

In observance of FOPD, KAUST will host a day of events on Saturday, May 23 at the university greenhouse. Community members will take part in tours of the facilities, demonstrations, interactive sessions, games for children and much more. To learn more about FOPD or CDA, visit

Related Links: