This week we’re looking at the Dragon’s Blood Tree, a very unique evergreen tree that grows in only one place, Socatra Island in the Arabian Sea and belonging to Yeman. The tree gets its name from the red resin that it secretes and this resin has been used for centuries for many different purposes.
According to legend, the first dragon blood tree was created from the blood of a dragon that was wounded when it fought an elephant. Like the unfortunate dragon, the tree secretes its resin when it’s injured. In ancient times the resin was believed to have magical and medicinal properties. People used it as a pigment for art, a dye, and a medicine. Dragon’s blood is still used for these purposes today.
The Dragon’s Blood Tree is absolutely unique in appearance.
The crown of the tree often looks like an umbrella that has been turned inside out. The fact that the branches are bare except at their tips adds to this illusion. The long and stiff leaves are born in bunches at the ends of the branches. Some trees have more rounded crowns than others and remind me of giant mushrooms instead of umbrellas.
The branches have a rippled appearance. They develop in a very regular pattern known as dichotomous branching. In this process, each branch produces two new branches arising from the same point. The process repeats to create the base of the tree’s crown.
Like the leaves, the flowers are borne at the tips of the branches. The flowers are small and greenish-white in colour. They are located in groups known as inflorescences. The fertilized flowers produce green berries that change to black as they ripen and then to orange when they are fully ripe.
The Dragon’s Blood Tree grows slowly and is very long-lived. According to Just Fun Facts,
…can live up to 650 years and reaches heights of around 10 to 12 meters (33 to 39 feet).
The tree grows slowly, about one meter (3 feet) every ten years.
The dragon blood tree is a succulent, very hardy and drought tolerant. It enjoys warm temperatures and
Like other monocotyledons, such as palms, the dragon blood tree grows from the tip of the stem, with
the long, stiff leaves borne in dense rosettes at the end.
It branches at maturity to produce an umbrella-shaped crown, with leaves that measure up to 60 cm
(23.6 in) long and 3 cm (1.2 in) wide.
Leaves appear only on the ends of the youngest branches, last for 3 or 4 years, then fall off and are replaced by a new set.
The dragon blood tree flowers around February. The flowers tend to grow at the end of the branches. The flowers have inflorescences, and they bear small clusters of fragrant, white or green flowers.
The fruits take five months to completely mature. The fruits are described as a fleshy berry, which changes from green through black to orange-red when ripe. The fleshy berry fruit contains one to three
seeds. The berries are usually eaten and dispersed by birds and other animals.
Despite their hardiness the Dragon’s Blood Trees of Yeman are threatened by climate change and the encroachment of human populations.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the population status of dragon blood trees as “vulnerable”. Although there may be several factors putting the population at risk, the major one is believed to be climate change. Grazing by domestic goats, extraction of the resin, and using the tree for firewood may play a smaller role in the tree’s problems. Other problems may be the increasing amount of development on the island, especially the creation of roads, as well as the increasing number of visitors.
Socotra Island has a generally dry climate but experiences periodic monsoons. The crown of the dragon blood tree channels rain and mist water to its roots very effectively. Unfortunately, the climate of Socotra Island is becoming drier and the monsoons less reliable.