The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists dragon trees as vulnerable because their populations are falling in their natural habitats. Loss of habitat due to farming and livestock is one threat. Some dragon trees are no longer flourishing in their native environments due to a changing climate that is drier than in past years and has fewer periods of low-lying clouds and mist. The tree is commonly farmed, nevertheless, and despite its slow growth, it is occasionally employed in landscaping and as an indoor potted tree.
There are numerous more plants in this genus, even though Dracaena draco is one of the bigger members of the Dracaena family. Many popular houseplants are among its 110 species, including lucky bamboo (D. braunii or D. sanderiana), maize plant (D. fragrans var. lindenii or D. deremensis), Janet Craig compact dracaena (D. deremensis Janet Craig), and the potted palm-like Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata).
How come the dragon blood tree is in danger?
According to recent research, the threatened tree should be classified as a “umbrella species” due to its significant ecological importance.
Although they are evolutionary marvels of the plant realm, dragon’s blood trees (Dracaena cinnabari) might not last indefinitely.
The unusual-looking dragon’s blood tree, which is listed as “vulnerable to extinction,” is indigenous to a solitary island in the Socotra archipelago off the coast of Yemen in the Arabian Sea. It can reach heights of more than 30 feet and have a lifespan of 600 years. It towers over the island’s rocky, mountainous landscape and produces abundant berries as well as the vermilion sap that gives the plant its name. This sap has been used for generations in everything from medicine to lipstick to violin varnish.
The trees are wonderful to look at. Their outward forking branch growth gives them the appearance of a big mushroom or an umbrella that has been blown inside out by the wind.
The dragon’s blood also has other characteristics that resemble umbrellas besides how it looks. According to recent research that was published in the journal Forests, the tree might also be regarded as an umbrella species, whose protection would be advantageous to a large number of other species.
The idea of an umbrella species has traditionally been used to describe enormous, cosmopolitan, charismatic mammals and birds like northern spotted owls, mountain gorillas, and giant pandas. According to the belief, by safeguarding these creatures and their habitats, you are also, directly or indirectly, preserving everything else that resides nearby.
Even though the dragon’s blood tree stays in one spot, unlike other umbrella species, a team of researchers from Socotra, Spain, and Portugal were interested in learning if it could perform the same function. Not a very large leap, really: The tree has long been recognized as an indicator species because it readily detects environmental changes and supports a variety of the island’s other distinctive animals. But might safeguarding the dragon’s blood benefit other animals as well?
Over the course of two months, the researchers examined 280 trees and discovered that at least 12 of Socotra’s endemic reptile species, including 10 geckos, one chameleon, and a snake, found food and refuge in these trees. Some of these species, like the severely endangered gecko known simply as Hemidactylus dracaenacolus, appear to only reside among the trees, while others, like those that were only seldom observed, probably do not entirely depend on the dragon’s blood.
The problem involved more than just the trees themselves. Many of the lizards seen share a habitat with nearby Cissus genus bushes, which are found close and around the trees.
The dragon’s blood tree should be treated as an umbrella species in the Socotra archipelago and preserved for the benefit of the entire region, according to the researchers, who do note that their study period was quite brief.
And we really need that defense. Threats to dragon’s blood trees include logging, habitat fragmentation, and livestock overgrazing of seeds and young shoots. Only a few young trees reach maturity. Ten percent of the trees’ potential habitat is currently occupied.
The situation will get worse due to climate change. By 2080, according to studies mentioned in the Forests study, the dragon’s blood will have lost up to 45 percent of its remaining range due to the island’s already-increasing aridity.
According to the experts, this indicates that dragon’s blood woods require immediate protection.
But the five-year conflict that has gripped Yemen continues, and it now also involves a struggle for Socotra. More than 100,000 people have died in this conflict, which has hampered island conservation efforts. The researchers add that international funding to assist nurseries cultivate dragon’s blood seedlings has been put “on hold due to the country’s political crisis,” even though their work was completed before the hostilities started. (In light of the COVID-19 epidemic, Saudi Arabia just announced a two-week cease-fire that was scheduled to start on April 9).
For the time being, the dragon’s blood tree is still standing, and the natural and human groups that surround it continue to benefit from the shelter and resources provided by its umbrella-like branches.
Watch this 2014 film about the threats to the dragon’s blood tree posed by climate change:
Is there a dragon tree?
The asparagus family includes both the dragon tree of the Canary Islands and its near relative, the dragon tree of Socotra. It has long been utilized and cherished by people living both within its natural area and further away in the Mediterranean because to its stunning umbrella-like look, which is well known.
The Canary Islands’ Guanche population employed the sap during the mummification process. “Sangre de drago” was a coloring agent used in ancient Rome. It has been utilized as an anti-oxidant and varnish for iron implements all over Europe.
Another Greek story, “The Eleventh Labour of Hercules: The Apples of the Hesprides,” also featured the tree. Red blood spilled upon the landscape after Landon, a dragon with one hundred heads, was killed; from this blood, trees that we now refer to as “dragon trees” grew.
The tree once had a significant ecological function. Approximately 500 years ago, an extinct, indigenous bird that resembled the Dodo and was flightless relied on the fruit of the dragon tree as its main food source.
It’s probable that the extinction of this bird species has contributed to a drop in naturally occurring dragon trees because this bird’s digestive system processed dragon tree seeds to encourage germination. The tree is getting harder to find, and the seed needs to be properly prepared in order to sprout.
The species is prohibited from picking and uprooting in Cape Verde by national law. A network of protected areas is being established, which could provide some populations of the species with a haven. Botanical gardens and arboreta have collections of this species, which is a valuable genetic resource for possible restoration initiatives.
Based on material graciously contributed by Teresa Leyens, Cape Verde Islands, and Hugh Synge, Plant Talk, in July 2000.
Why is the dragon tree of Socotra in danger?
Development, climate change, and a protracted civil war pose a growing threat to the iconic tree native to Yemen’s Socotra archipelago.
On the Yemeni island of Socotra, we departed from camp around midnight and traveled down a twisting road across the Diksam Plateau. We passed shadows resembling saucers hovering above the island’s rocky surface under the protection of the night sky and swaying branches.
My driver, Ali Bin Adam, offered me a pinch of qhat, a leafy herb used as a stimulant in Yemen. He reached into a plastic bag that was attached to his steering column. Our next stop was the Socotra settlement of Diksam, which is home to the only known distribution of Dracaenacinnabari, or dragon’s blood trees. We traveled there to speak with the locals and hear more about efforts being made to preserve the elusive tree in the face of local instability and climate change.
Northeast of the Horn of Africa, between the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, Socotra lies like a gem. The island, known as the “Galpagos of the Indian Ocean,” is home to several odd-looking indigenous species of birds, reptiles, and mollusks. In 2008, it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site. In actuality, 37% of its 825 plant species are unique to our planet.
The dragon’s blood trees stand out on the plateau like enormous lone mushrooms, their crowns supported by dozens of thick branches that resemble tentacles. This tree is the only plant life that reaches higher than five feet in a landscape of stone and barren shrubbery. Its red sap is the reason for its name. The scars left by the sap that was taken from the few trees that defend the road leading to Diksam were once used to make medicine and color.
The dragon’s blood tree, a famous tree in the Socotran environment, is in danger. The tree now only occupies a small portion of its original range due to habitat fragmentation, livestock grazing, and climate change. Researchers and locals are now working to ensure its survival.
And a lot more than the dragon’s blood tree could be saved thanks to that defense. Dracaenacinnabari is now considered an umbrella species according to recent studies published in Forests. At least 12 different species of reptiles, including the critically endangered gecko known as Hemidactylus dracaenacolus, find food and shelter under dragon’s blood trees. A significant environment and a cultural landmark would both be preserved by saving the dragon’s blood tree.
I was given the chance to travel to the island earlier this year thanks to the efforts of an English language school that was supported by the Khalifa Foundation and was ultimately under the control of the government of the United Arab Emirates.
It takes some getting used to, according to Vincent Chan, a center employee who picked me up at the airport.
Yet it like heaven. No, he said, it is paradise as we wound our way to Hadibo, the only city on the island, past deserted beaches and swarms of clay-faced Egyptian vultures. We went across slopes covered in desert roses, a peculiar-looking shrub with an elephant-like trunk and a crown of pink blossoms, as well as turquoise lakes.
The journey to the island is challenging. Only two flights per day arrive and depart, one from Cairo and the other with UAE authorization from Abu Dubai. The island, which is technically a part of Yemen, has recently received an infusion of aid from the Emirate. The UAE, which was accused in the beginning of 2018 of seeking to pass off an annexation drive as a humanitarian one, operates the only airport and port. After Saudi Arabia mediated a compromise between the Yemeni government headed by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council, the separatist organization it supports, tensions between Yemen’s government and Abu Dhabi were reduced. The agreement led to a reduction in military presence on the island.
However, one can still sense the UAE’s presence. On my way to the English Language Center, I passed a number of newly constructed communities, roads, and streetlights.
Fighting between the two factions resumed in late April (according to the Associated Press), following the Southern Transitional Council’s declaration of self-rule in southern Yemen last month. This sparked brief clashes on Socotra and fears of new violence in the nation, which has been embroiled in a civil war for more than five years, further endangering the survival of the dragon’s blood tree.
Motorcycles swerved through city traffic and bounced across potholes the size of hot spas. Drivers of trucks and vans stopped in the middle of the road to talk to friends or avert collisions, and men trudged past closed tourist attractions with quat-swollen cheeks. Goats munched on the pink and blue plastic bags that covered the roadside and alleys as they watched this all go on.
When the island was devastated by two cyclones in a couple of weeks in 2015, infrastructure was already a problem. The storms tore through Hadibo, forcing the majority of its 20,000 inhabitants to flee.
Numerous mature dragon’s blood trees were also uprooted. The storms, according to several locals, marked a turning point in the island’s climatic change.
Ali and I were given cups of tea in Diksam by a tall man wearing a traditional fouta from Yemen. “The atmosphere is different now,” he claimed. He provided us a big amount of bread despite the fact that he and his family had been fasting all day because it was Ramadan. While we introduced ourselves, nearby kids played and giggled. From his bag, Ali pulled out yet another handful of qhat.
Salem Keabany is the name of the individual. He and his family are taking part in research being done on trees at Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic, in an effort to slow down the demise of the trees. His village is the only one on the plateau with power, having only been constructed about 15 years ago. On the way in, we had passed a brand-new schoolhouse. “Keabany told us that formerly, we used to live in the caves.
One of the few groves of dragon’s blood trees in the entire planet is now protected by the village’s gate. The villagers also look after a nursery of seedlings set up to track the trees’ growth and mortality rates.
The tree develops exceedingly slowly, Keabany said. He pointed three to four feet above the ground and stated, “From 2006 up to now it comes up to here.
Mendel University researchers claim that it can take the saplings up to 100 years to reach a height where they can escape the neighborhood goats’ regular feeding. As a result, the dragon’s blood tree has one of the slowest rates of growth in the entire globe.
Keabany stated, “I haven’t discovered any in nature that are sprouting, but I believe it’s mainly from the goats, from the animals. ” A juvenile dragon’s blood tree that I noticed was out of the goats’ grasp, but I believe it was in an area where it couldn’t flourish since there was no soil. Just cliffs and rocks.
The trees in the arid region mostly rely on fog and a few days of annual rainfall for moisture. This indicates that the tree is vulnerable to variations in precipitation since it is sandwiched between protracted periods of aridity and strong cyclones.
Turning to a barren area behind his house, Keabany remarked, “It used to rain virtually all year when I was young, but now it only rains twice a year. ” There was a large dragon’s blood here in the center of our home. Before the storm, we used to sit beneath it.
The prognosis is dismal, said Hana Habrov, a co-author of the Mendel University report through email. The trees currently occupy barely 5% of their expected ecological area. The number of trees will gradually decrease to zero if nothing is done and no intervention relating to local customs is made.
The best way to proceed on a shifting island is still an open topic as Keabany takes care of the dragon’s blood tree. Keabany indicated that additional development will undoubtedly occur on the island of Socotra, especially after tourism resumes following the end of the war in mainland Yemen. The people of Socotra are too hospitable, the environment too strange, and the beaches there are too lovely.
How will that evolution manifest itself, though? And how will it affect the civilization that has grown up around the dragon’s blood trees?
According to Keabany, “I want [the country] to change and I want [my children] to be content and have nice accommodations while yet maintaining their culture and customs.
He will continue to take care of the final dragon’s blood trees while Keabany and the rest of his tribe prepare for change. The trees are thriving, although he noted that they require additional attention. “How do I keep them? How do I save them?