The Dragon Blood Trees Of Socotra Island Look Like They Came Right Out Of Game Of Thrones
When you first catch a glimpse of the dragon blood tree of Socotra Island, you might do a double take. It looks like a tree-mushroom. On second glance, however, you can see that this glorious tree is in fact an iconic tree which actually has a long history of commercial use.
This tree has a long history of commercial use. Despite being economically important for centuries now, the future of the species is uncertain. Even some new, young trees are lacking in signature features of this rare and beautiful tree.
Let’s explore why it’s becoming extinct, and why it’s so important to the people of Socotra that this tree sticks around.
How Common Are The Trees & Where Are They Found?
The incredible island of Socotra is located off the coast of Yemen. The trees live in what are left of a prehistoric Dragonsblood Tree Forest on granite mountains and limestone plateaus.
The island of Socotra has been separated from mainland Arabia for 34 million years. Because of this, it has a flora that’s very much its own. 37% of its plant species aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
The dragon tree’s strange appearance and lineage indicate a species which has cunningly adapted to its environment.
Why Is It Called A Dragon Blood Tree?
Much like the bloodwood tree from South Africa, the dragon blood tree appears to bleed when you cut into it.
The resin that appears when the tree is cut is known as the “dragon’s blood”, which has many different uses. Experts don’t know exactly why the resin is so red, or why it appears to look like blood.
Really, the redness of the resin just adds to the overall mystery of the tree, which is dramatic and mysterious on its own, before you ever cut into its bark.
Dragon Blood Tree Sap Actually Has A Ton Of Useful Applications
Humans have been using the resin from the dragon blood tree since ancient times. The safety of ingesting the tree is unknown and not recommended. However, here is a list of things that the sap from the dragon blood tree can be used for:
- medicine for a wide variety of medical issues
- varnish for violins and furniture, among other items
- an ingredient in witchcraft and modern alchemy
While there is no scientific evidence for the benefits of using the ‘blood’ of this tree medicinally, suffice to say the resin of the dragon blood tree contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants.
In addition to these nutritious compounds, researchers have also found that the resin can relax rat muscle. Whether or not this is beneficial to humans remains to be seen.
Why Do The Trees Grow In An Umbrella Shape?
The crown of this iconic tree looks like an upside-down umbrella. Add to this that the branches are all bare except for the tips, and the umbrella ‘look’ is even more prominent.
Some of the trees have even more rounded crowns than others, and look like mushroom-trees. When the monsoon season comes, the area is drizzled in airborne moisture.
Because of this, the shape of the dragons blood tree is optimized to intercept the moisture and channel it towards root systems. The root systems are then shaded by the umbrella-shaped canopy so as to preserve the moisture.
How To See A Dragon Blood Tree In Real Life
If you’re up for a big trip, you can see the dragon blood tree for yourself in real life. There are definitely tourists and travellers who make the trip to see this incredible tree that looks like it’s from a fantasy movie.
There are lots of specific travel advisories around visiting Yemen that you’ll want to observe if you’re looking at going there. You can check out this article about why and why not to visit Yemen right now. The high incidence of terrorist attacks and political instability may deter you from seeing this tree in real life.
Climate Change & The Dragon Blood Tree
The most significant threat to the dragon blood tree isn’t harvesting or agriculture. Rather, it’s climate change. Socotra is drying out over the years, and it’s having a huge impact on the dragons blood tree.
The once reliable monsoon weather has been more inconsistent in recent years. Because of this, some of the trees are drying out. In addition to drying out, some of the younger trees are also growing with different features than the older trees. Scientists believe this to be a result of adaptation to a changing environment.
The tree is expected to lose 45% of its potential habitat by 2080. Unless we all take major steps to mitigate climate change, the future of Socotra’s ancient dragons blood tree is very much at risk.