The Land of Dragon’s Blood and Elephant Plants

Socotra is an island in the Indian Ocean, 150 miles off the Horn of Africa and 240 miles south of the Arabian Peninsula.    Roughly 40,000 people live there, but the plant life is a lot more interesting.   Roughly one third (!) of the flora and fauna species on Socotra are unique to the island.  That’s right — there are plants on Socotra which exist nowhere else.  Two, in particular, stand out.

First, the Dragon’s Blood Tree, pictured above.   Often considered Socotra’s hallmark plant, the tree looks like an inverted root system with greenery sprouting from its top, forming a Chia Pet-like cover.   It gets its name from its sap — a red liquid colloquially called dragon’s blood.  It’s used locally on Socotra as a wonder drug (to questionable effect), “curing diarrhea, lowering fevers, dysentery diseases, taken internally for ulcers in the mouth, throat, intestines and stomach, as well as an antiviral for respiratory viruses, stomach viruses and for such skin disorders as eczema” per Wikipedia.  Outside of Soctora, the sap has been used for dyes and varnishes — as well as incense by those who practice hoodoo.

Next are dorstenia gigas, sometimes called the Socotran Fig — but as a few have described it, more like an elephant’s leg with flowers sprouting out of it.   They can grow to be four or more feet tall with a circumference of two feet at its largest point.  Getting them to grow outside of Socotra has proven tricky, with one research recounting how, after years of work, he almost got there — only to have one of the flowering dorstenias stolen.

More photos of Socotra?  Try this article on Dark Roasted Blend, which also shares the Cucumber Tree and a spectacular walled city built atop a cliffside.

Bonus factVia Neatorama, meet the Blue Dragon Nudibranch, a very tiny creature which (as Neatorlooks like it’s from a Dr. Seuss book.  These very tiny creatures — they fit in the palm of one’s hand — look like miniature dragons.  They feed on and store the poisonous venom of jellyfish, and therefore become poisonous themselves: they can shoot it out as a defense mechanism.

From the Archives: The Aptly Named Snake Island: Another exotic island — but one you don’t want to visit.

Related: “The Lost World of Socotra: Yemen’s Island Of Bliss” by Richard Boggs. Five stars but on only one review.

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