Socotra: Dracaena cinnabari and the dragon blood



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Socotra: Dracaena cinnabari and the dragon blood

Socotra is a very interesting island from a naturalistic point of view. Originally part of the African-Arabian tectonic plate, it remains isolated starting from the Tertiary, giving rise to a high number of both plant and animal endemisms.

37% of the 825 plant species on the island are unique in the world. One of the most characteristic plants is the Socotra dragon dracaena o Dracaena cinnabari, a succulent plant with the characteristic crown in the shape of an upturned umbrella, from which dragon blood is extracted, a red resin used in ancient times and in medicine.

than as incense and as a dye. Other species worthy of mention are the succulent Dorstenia gigas, the cucumber tree, the Socotra pomegranate, the socotrine aloe and the Boswellia socotrana, from which a locally used incense is obtained.

Socotra: Dracaena cinnabari and the dragon blood

The avian population includes 192 species, 44 of which always live on the island, while 85 are migratory birds, some of which are threatened with extinction. Among the most characteristic species are the Socotra starling, the Socotra nectarine, the Socotra bunting, the Socotra cisticola, the Socotra sparrow, the alidorate woodcock and the Socotra bunting.

Over 90% of reptiles are endemic. In the sea there are 253 species of coral that give life to a reef, 730 species of fish and 300 crabs, lobsters and shrimps. Dracaena cinnabari is an arboreal plant with a trunk that divides dichotomously into branches ending with rosettes of leathery, lanceolate, glaucous green leaves, arranged to form an umbrella-shaped crown.

The IUCN Red List classifies Dracaena cinnabari as a vulnerable species. When the bark or leaves are cut, they secrete a resin which oxidizes to a reddish color, known as dragon's blood. The "dragon's blood" was already known to the ancient Romans and is still used today as a dye and paint.

Although most of its ecological habitats are still intact, there is an increasing population with industrial and tourism development. Though the dragon's blood tree is highly widespread, it has become fragmented due to the development that has occurred in its habitats.

Human activities have greatly reduced the dragon's blood population through overgrazing, and feeding the flowers and fruits to the livestock of the island. The dragon's blood tree usually produces its flowers around March, though flowering does vary with location.

The flowers tend to grow at the end of the branches. The plants have inflorescences and bear small clusters of fragrant, white, or green flowers. The fruits take five months to completely mature.