Weird & Wonderful Creatures: Dragon Blood Tree

Dragon Blood Trees on the Socotra archipelago in Yemen. Photo Credit: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Dragon's Blood Tree, Socotra Island) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

 The Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari), an evergreen tree found on the Socotra archipelago in Yemen, has been known since ancient times for its unusual appearance and red sap.

The Dragon Blood Tree resembles an open umbrella, with a straight trunk, which then branches out as the tree matures. Branches form dichotomously, which mean that they divide in two directions, which then fork again. Leaves form in circular clusters at the very end of the youngest branches and are long and stiff. They're shed every 3–4 years as a new set of leaves matures. The tree grows white or green flowers in February, which, over five months, produce berries that turn from green to black to orange as they ripen. Both the berries and the tree itself ooze a deep red resin, which is the inspiration for the name.

The resin has many traditional and modern uses: Within homeopathic medicine, it has been used for treating everything from diarrhea to ulcers. It has been used as toothpaste and makeup, dye for wool, and glue for pottery. It is used to this day for varnishing violins and within photoengraving.

The Dragon Blood Tree is not the only unusual species found solely on Socotra; 37% of its plant species are found nowhere else in the world. The tree is considered vulnerable due to a drying climate on Socotra, where its habitat is predicted to decrease by 45% by 2080, and an increased number of livestock.

If you're interested in learning more about trees, some lessons focus on trees and leaves: In the K–2 lesson Look at Those Leaves!, students learn about leaves by collecting, comparing, and describing them. In A Seabird in the Forest, a lesson for grades 3–5, students learn about the interdependent relationship between the Marbled Murrelet bird and the environment of old growth forests, such as redwood trees. The Wild Trees high school lesson addresses the diversity of scientific research in the context of the story of how researchers learned about the giant redwoods in Northwestern California. You can also take part in citizen science projects relating to trees using the Leafsnap App or the Project BudBurst App.

Listen to these Science Updates to learn about some threats to the world's trees: Squirrel Hoarding, Tree Torture, WWII Tree Disease, and Rainforests & Rainfall. Nowhere to Hide, an interactive from Kinetic City, also deals with threats to trees.



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