The Argan Tree
The argan is a slow growing tree with small leaves and fruit that have a similar appearance to the olive fruit.
Tree densities vary from well under 10 trees/ha to over 80 trees/ha and trees may grow to a height of 10m.
The argan is generally found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1500m and in areas where rainfall levels vary from 150 to 400 mm/year.
Argan trees occur in a wide range of soils.
Recent electrical resistivity studies have shown that soil moisture is maintained beneath argan trees even during hot dry summer periods (Ain-Lhout et al 2016).
The tree’s ability to survive arid conditions is in part due to its deep-reaching roots and its ability to drop leaves during severe drought (Msanda et al 2007).
Argan trees are important in south west Morocco because they can slow the advance of desertification, protect the soil from erosion, foster soil fertility and provide shade to other flora and fauna, thereby, increasing biodiversity in argan rich areas (Alados & Aich, 2008).
The argan also has a very important socio-economic role in terms of wood, fruit and fodder provision and is the mainstay of the traditional agrarian system.
The argan woodland has been subject to a long period of degradation due to overgrazing intensive agriculture, urbanisation and climate change (Le Polain de Waroux & Lambin, 2012).
As a result, the argan woodlands were designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1998 and covers an area of 2.5m hectares (Eaux et Forets 2008).
Ikounka in the Anti Atlas Mountains is a core area which is partly fenced and therefore protected from grazing and cultivation. This has allowed the argan to flourish and for the associated ecosystem to develop. The images below show the contrast between the protected area and the surrounding unfenced land.
Rainfall has a very rapid impact on vegetation in southern Morocco. In the adjacent photograph taken in mid January 2017 the effect of 40mm of rainfall in December 2016 can be clearly seen in the lush vegetation.
The picture shows a valley bottom within the fenced part of the Ikounka core area.
The dense shrub vegetation comprises the endemic leguminous species Hesperolaburnum platycarpum.>
This shrub is found at low altitudes in the argan woodland of the Souss Valley and the Anti Atlas Mountains, typically on north facing slopes.