Dragon's Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)

Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)

The Socotra archipelago (Arabic: سُقُطْرَى‎ Suquṭra), is a group of four islands which lie just off the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean.  The islands are politically part of Yemen but their long isolation from any continental landmass has made them ecologically distinct.  Of the many species of plants and animals which are endemic only to Socotra, one species is particularly emblematic: the dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari).  This monocot tree has an extremely unusual shape which allows it to survive on minimal amounts of soil and water.  The crown is dense with foliage to reduce evaporation (and to maximize cooling shade).

The oozing red sap of the dragon's blood tree

The oozing red sap of the dragon’s blood tree

The dragon’s blood tree takes its distinctive name from the blood red resin it produces when cut or scraped.  The dried sap was a prized commodity in the ancient world when it was used as a dye, a medicine, a magic ingredient, and an adhesive.  Even today the sap is still used in traditional medicine (it is said to be a coagulant and a stimulant but also an abortifacient) and as violin varnish!

Dragon's Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)

Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)