The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat), Bahrain’s One-Tree Oasis

photography by: Omri Westmark

With far more oil than freshwater, the small island-nation of Bahrain is unsurprisingly dominated by a harsh desert. Amid its arid landscape however lies a natural wonder which baffled scientists and passersby for centuries, a sole mesquite tree that seemingly defies the laws of nature. Devoid of any apparent water sources, it has inspired many fables and scientific theories alike, each of which struggling to explain its impossible survival.

The Story about the Tree

Perching atop a sandy knoll at the middle of the Bahraini desert, the Tree of Life, or Shajarat-al-Hayat as it’s known locally, is an outright anomaly. As no freshwater sources are found anywhere near, it is unclear how this lone 10-meter-tall mesquite tree has managed to survive the inhospitable climate for over 400 years.

 

Throughout the years, many theories tried to shed a light on this seemingly impossible phenomenon. Some scientists asserted that the tree’s extensive root system is a whopping 30-50 meter deep, which with the help of symbiotic fungi provides access to underground water and nutrients. An additional hypothesis suggests that the plant successfully obtains moisture from sand grains, yet both of these explanations as well as countless others were never fully verified.

 

The lack of any decisive scientific answer for this rather unusual mystery has led some people to believe that the tree’s durability is the result of supernatural forces, associated with the island’s pre-Islamic culture. In fact, it has been claimed that the Sumerian god of water, Enki, has been blessing and protecting the tree. Another common belief is that the almighty plant is actually the sole vestige of the biblical Garden of Eden.

 

Whilst it’s up for you to decide what to believe in, one thing is hard to deny – the tree became a national symbol for resilience, somewhat of a flora equivalent to a camel.

The Tree of Life at its fullest glory

photography by: Omri Westmark


The shaded area under the tree

photography by: Omri Westmark


Clusters of incense sticks near the tree's roots

photography by: Omri Westmark


The ample shade, provided by the sole tree

photography by: Omri Westmark


Some of the branches can barely hold their own weight and are supported by logs

photography by: Omri Westmark


The tree is guarded 24/7 as it is enlisted as a nationally significant site

photography by: Omri Westmark


The slender leaves minimize water evaporation and help keep the plant hydrated

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Tree of Life Complex

Nestled in a remote mid-desert location about 40 kilometers from central Manama, the Tree of Life complex is accessible only by car, taxi, uber or any other form of private transportation. The tree is encircled by a circular perimeter wall whose radius measures roughly 120 meters. Somewhere along the round path that follows the wall is a shaded alcove with info plaques where one can read insights and facts about the site.

 

While the Tree of Life lacks any nearby wooden counterparts, it is in fact surrounded by multiple archeological remnants of an ancient village that once existed side by side with the lonely tree. As you wander around the circular tract of land where the tree dwells, you’ll come across not only what remains of the former hamlet, but also a recently built sundial that is as accurate as your cellular phone. Interestingly, the site is merely 2 kilometers away from Jabal al Dukhan (Mountain of Smoke), Bahrain highest point, towering 134 meters above sea level.

One of the entrances to the Tree of Life's circular complex

photography by: Omri Westmark


The site's main entrance

photography by: Omri Westmark


The round walkway along the site's perimeter wall

photography by: Omri Westmark


The shaded niche with an info board, providing insightful info about the site

photography by: Omri Westmark


One of the remnants of the once thriving village that stood meters away from the sacred tree

photography by: Omri Westmark


A cool sundial indicates what time it is

photography by: Omri Westmark