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Unique trees of the world-The dragon blood tree of Socotra

Unique trees of the world- the name conjures images of trees of different and unreal dimensions, settings, shades of blooms and what not. Let’s today talk about conservation of a unique tree- the dragon blood tree. The dragon blood tree belongs to the genus Dracena which comprises of 120 species of trees and succulent shrubs.

The dragon blood tree which we are going to talk about today, is Dracena cinnabari, native to the Socotra archipelago of Yemen, a land which is now baffled by civil war, cyclones and developmental issues. The core area of Socotra, the Diksum Plateau houses the largest number of dragon blood trees. Geographically, Socotra is at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden and politically, it is governed by Yemen. It is often called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean which is a reference to its biodiversity, for which Socotra’s millennia old isolation from mainland Arabia can be credited. The flagship species of this island is the dragon’s blood tree. This tree boasts of a unique appearance and can roughly be described as an upturned and densely packed umbrella. They flower around March and they bear fleshy berry fruit. The conventionally “strange” appearance of this tree is instrumental to its survival in arid regions. It is said that they can live up to a millennium and the bright red resin is said to have medicinal properties.

This tree, however, faces threats in the form of industrial development, overgrazing, woodcutting, logging, and most importantly, climate change. This tree has a history of commercial uses, including being used as food for livestock (berries being used as medicine for livestock) and the red resin being used for the colour of Stradivarius violins. However, the largest threat remains climate change. Socotra is drying out, unreliable monsoon being the major reason.  Aridity is predicted to increase 45% by 2080.   

The IUCN conservation status is VULNERABLE. The fragile ecosystem of the place is also threatened by non-native species which have been introduced by uncontrolled and unchecked cargoes and exotic vegetation on road-sides. This is an island scenario we are talking about and everything is closely connected. The flora act as the hydrological support of the island ecosystem as well.  Researchers and residents have come together to help this species survive and not just this species, but the gecko which inhabits the tree- Hemidactylus dracaenacolus, which in return is classified as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List.

With efforts being made, here’s hoping that this tree doesn’t become the stuff of myth , in near future.

This article has been written by Anwita Mukherjee with inputs from her mother, Mrs R Mukherjee, who is a thorough environmentalist.

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