The Dragon’s Blood tree, found on the Socotra island, has an interesting legend behind it. It is said to have originated from the first drop of blood between the two brothers Abel and Cain. This tree is the most significant and long-standing among the aromatic trees located in the Hajhar, Ayhavt, and mountainous areas of the island. It is a symbol of beauty and a blessed tree that characterizes the island of Socotra in Yemen. Despite growing in rocky terrain and at an altitude of 2000-5000 feet above sea level, these trees thrive. According to old folk beliefs, they are known to expel ghosts, evil spirits, and disturb jinns from human and animal bodies.
The Dragon’s Blood tree, found on the island of Socotra, is said to have gotten its name from a myth passed down through generations in Yemen. The story tells of the first instance of bloodshed between the two brothers, Cain and Abel, and how the tree grew from the first drop of their blood. Although historical sources date the tree back to the beginning of the first millennium BC, the legend adds an intriguing backstory to the tree’s significance.
The daon blood tree has a peculiar appearance, with its dense crown shaped like an upright umbrella. It is an evergreen plant that gets its name from the dark red resin called “daon’s blood”. Unlike most monocot plants, Dracaena exhibits secondary growth, and even has growth zones similar to that of dicot trees. The arborescent Dracaena species, including D. cinnabari, has a distinct growth habit called “daoid habitus”. Its leaves are only found at the end of its youngest branches and are shed every 3-4 years before new leaves simultaneously mature. Branching occurs when the terminal bud’s growth is halted due to events such as flowering or herbivory.
The daon’s blood tree produces small fleshy berries that contain 1 to 4 seeds. These berries start off green, turn black as they mature, and become orange when ripe. Birds, such as Onychognatus species, eat the berries and spread the seeds. The seeds are about 4-5 mm in diameter and weigh around 68 mg on average. The berries also release a red resin called daon’s blood.
Similar to palms, the daon’s blood tree grows from the tip of the stem and has long stiff leaves clustered at the end. As it matures, it branches out to form an umbrella-shaped crown with leaves up to 60 cm long and 3 cm wide. The trunk and branches of the daon’s blood tree are thick and stout and exhibit dichotomous branching, where each branch repeatedly divides into two sections.
During the month of March, the daon’s blood tree is known to produce its flowers, though this may vary depending on the location. These flowers are located at the end of the branches and are usually white or green in color and emit a fragrant smell. The plant also has inflorescence and bears small clusters of these flowers. It takes around five months for the fruit to completely mature. The fruit is described as a fleshy berry that changes from green to black as it ripens gradually. The orange-red colored fruit contains one to three seeds and is usually eaten and dispersed by birds and other animals.
The daon’s blood tree has a unique shape which enables it to survive in arid conditions that have low soil amounts such as mountaintops. The large, packed crown provides shade and reduces evaporation, which is crucial for survival in such harsh conditions. This shade also aids in the growth and survival of seedlings that grow beneath the adult tree, hence the reason why these trees grow closer together.
In 1835, during a survey of Socotra island led by Lieutenant Wellsted of the East India Company, the first description of D. cinnabari was recorded. Initially called Pterocarpus dao, it was later reclassified by a Scottish botanist named Isaac Bayley Balfour in 1880 as Dracaena cinnabari. Out of the 60 to 100 species of Dracaena, only six are known to grow into tree form, and D. cinnabari is one of them.
Despite the fact that most of its natural habitats are still intact, the daon’s blood tree is facing increased pressure due to industrial and tourism development, which has led to practices such as logging, woodcutting, and overgrazing. This has caused fragmentation in the tree’s habitats, leading to poor regeneration and a decline in population. One of the biggest threats to the species is the gradual drying out of the Socotra Archipelago, which has been happening for hundreds of years and has resulted in non-flourishing trees. The duration of mist and clouds in the area seems to be decreasing as well. All of these factors combined are predicted to cause a 45 percent reduction in the available habitat for D. cinnabari by 2080. Additionally, human activities such as feeding the flowers and fruits to livestock have greatly reduced the tree’s population.
The daon’s blood tree faces other risks such as the collection of its resin and the utilization of its leaves for rope making. Unfortunately, some individuals have even used the trees to construct beehives, which is against regulations. This highlights how the species may be vulnerable due to a breakdown in traditional practices on the island. The most well-maintained and expansive cluster of D. cinnabari can be found on the Rokeb di Firmihin limestone plateau, spanning roughly 540 hectares (1,300 acres) and housing rare and unique species. Nevertheless, studies indicate that the number of trees in this forest will reduce in the next few decades because of the absence of natural regeneration.
Daon’s blood, a crimson red resin, is a highly prized commodity that can be harvested from the trees. This resin was widely used in ancient times and is still sought after today. It serves as a dye and medicine around the Mediterranean basin while Socotrans use it ornamentally and for wool dyeing, pottery gluing, breath freshening, and lipstick. Additionally, the belief that it is the blood of the daon makes it a popular ingredient in ritual magic and alchemy. In 1883, Isaac Bayley Balfour classified three grades of resin: tear-like, small chips and fragments, and a mixture of debris being the cheapest. While D. cinnabari’s resin was originally the source of daon’s blood, other plants were used instead during the medieval and renaissance periods.