The Dead Sea Apple Tree (Calotropis procera) is one you are more likely to see growing in the coastal plains of South Sinai rather than the mountain wadis. They are easy to spot along the main roads and even in the main cities of Dahab and Nuweiba.
Called ‘ushaar ( العشار ) in Arabic, this is a small tree in the dogbane family. It can grow up to four meters in height and the bark is light brown and cracked.
The leaves are large and grayish-green in color and are a popular meal for the larvae, or caterpillars, of the African Monarch Butterfly (Danaus chrysippus).
The small flowers, which grow in clusters, are some of my favorite – small and white with purple tips. They bloom from May to November and are pollinated by Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa sp).
The fruits are large, bright green and inflated like a balloon.
The fruits were traditionally used by the Bedouin of South Sinai as floats for fishing nets and the fibers used to make skull caps as well as stuffing for cushions.
When they are fully ripe, the fruit bursts open, releasing hundreds of seeds with fine, long, white hairs. It is common to see the seeds floating through the air in springtime.
So common in fact, they starred in one my children’s books, The Flying Seed, which you can read and download for free at my Books by Habiba blog where you can find a few other nature-related titles.
Although beautiful, this plant leaks a milky acrid sap when broken that can cause possible irritation to the skin and, I’ve heard, vision impairment.
Calotropis procera is also known as Sodom Apple, Sodom’s Milkweed, Rooster Tree, and Rubber Bush and is one of many plants mentioned in the Bible and Quran.
You can find this plant, and over a hundred others, in my guide book, Wandering through Wadis: A nature-lover’s guide to the flora of South Sinai.