Dry lands of Mongolia occupy half of the territory, of which the only ¼ is Saxaul forest ecosystem. Saxaul trees grow in Gobi desert and it is the only tree species in the area that actually creates forest. Other trees in Gobi desert does not form forest. During your stay in Gobi deserts of Mongolia, you will be able to see Saxaul trees in many areas such as Bayanzag (The Flaming cliffs). Saxaul trees have many benefits:
People use it for fuel. Saxaul is used as energy source for heating and cooking. Local people call this three “a growing coal” because if you burn 100kg of saxaul trees, same amount of heat and energy is released as if you burned 80kg of coal. It is forbidden to cut or break young Saxaul trees because it takes long time to grow. There is a traditional custom that nomads only burn dead or dying saxaul tree. In recent years, over usage of Saxaul trees for fuel are increasing. Following this situation, Saxaul tree resource and area are decreasing in high rate. This in turn, contributes to desertification and land degradation in Gobi desert.
Saxaul tree becomes a vital food source for many different animals such as camels, pikas and gerbils. Gerbils dig a burrow under saxaul trees to hide from predators. In same time, burrows, which are dug by gerbils allow Saxaul tree roots to access air. Saxaul trees have narrow and small leaves in order to keep moisture in harsh, dry and hot environment of Gobi desert.
Saxaul trees are not suitable for making furniture but thanks to the development of the tourism industry, locals make souvenirs out of the dead roots from Saxaul. It can be a good souvenir to remind you about Mongolia.
Ecologically, Saxaul tree is vital in the sandy, windy and dry areas of Gobi desert. In Mongolian desert and semi-desert region, saxaul forest is vital to combat desertification. Saxsaul forest grows in 39 village territory of 7 provinces in Mongolia, covering 0.1% of forest resources of the country. By age, Saxaul tree is divided in 5 ranks such as: young, teenage, middle age, adult and old age Saxaul. Saxaul trees usually grow in the fields between mountains,
Saxaul tree can grow in area which has 80-90 mm/per year precipitation amount. Saxaul tree root can grow up to 5 m deep in ground and 5-10 m spread underground. This makes Saxaul a very stable tree against wind and a good barrier against sand shifting. Although in one ha of Saxaul tree area averagely 19 million seeds are produced, all of these seeds will not grow by natural causes. Saxaul tree reproductive ability is measured by of growth. For example: in one ha of area Saxaul tree numbers are 1000 or more, is considered to be good. If there are 500-1000 trees are considered average, less than 500 trees in one ha is considered to be low.
Saxaul forests are vital for desert ecosystems and they make up one quarter of the 8.5% land area covered by forests. Since 1970, 125 thousand hectares of Saxaul stands have been destroyed and 370 thousand hectares lost their regenerative capacity. But people along with international organizations putting an effort to restore the Saxaul trees in Gobi desert. When you come to Mongolia and if you travel out to Gobi desert definitely, you will be able to see these magnificent trees called Saxaul.