Common Name: Argoun Palm
Scientific Name: Medemia argun
Categories: Cultural, Historical
Medemia argun is a rare species of fan palm that grows in the Nubian Desert. It is the only member of the genus Medemia. Prior to its discovery in the wild in 1837, it was known from fruits collected by archaeologists from Egyptian tombs dating back to 2500 BC. It was considered extinct in the wild until its rediscovery in Sudan in 1995 and in Egypt 1998. The rarity of Medemia in current times is paradoxical, given its frequent occurrence in ancient tombs. It seems likely that Medemia once had a broader distribution than it has today. The range of Medemia may be shrinking as a result of long-term climate change
Why is this species important?
Medemia argun has considerable cultural and historical importance due to its significance in Ancient Egypt. In Pharaonic times, it was cultivated and regularly placed in tombs as an offering for the after-life. It is ecologically important as one of the few, large trees in the Nubian Desert, providing shelter and food for desert wildlife.
Where is it found?
Medemia is restricted to the Nubian Desert, occurring in several fragmented locations in southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. It survives only in desert oases where ground water can be found. In some sites in Sudan, populations consist of a few hundred palms, whereas some localities in Egypt contain only one individual.
How do people use it?
Local Bedouins use the leaves for making mats. The mats are softer and stronger than those made from the more common Hyphaene thebaica (doum palm) or Phoenix dactylifera (date palm). It has been reported that the wood is used to build houses and that the fruits are edible.
Why is it threatened?
Exploitation of the leaves is a potential threat. Degradation of habitats by human disturbance, vandalism, fire and agricultural activities are significant risks. Climate change is a potential, but poorly understood threat. Rainfall in the Nubian Desert is extremely infrequent (approximately one rainfall per decade). Reduction in frequency may lead to changes in ground-water patterns and will reduce palm survival. Monitoring in Egyptian sites reveals no recruitment in the past decade.
What conservation action is needed?
Medemia habitats must be protected from human disturbance, ideally by the establishment of protected areas. Local awareness of the risks to Medemia habitats must be increased and ex situ populations established. Educational programmes and an ex situ nursery have been initiated in Aswan.
Many thanks to Haitham Ibrahim and William Baker for all of the information on this tree and for supplying all images.
Medemia argun – Past, Present and Future. Palms 53: 9–19.
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