Rokeb di Firmihin – forest of Dragon’s blood trees

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This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon's Blood Trees in Socotra
This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon's Blood Trees in Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, / CC BY-SA 2.0
One of the most unusual forest in the world is located on Rokeb di Firmihin, central part of Socotra Island. This is almost pure stand of rare Dragon’s Blood Trees – legendary trees which look as if they have arrived from another planet.

Relicts of Socotra

The dry, isolated Socotra island has unusual plant and animal life. Out of 825 species on the island 307 are endemic – found only in Socotra.

This unusual plant life has developed on the island in isolation from the outside world since Miocene, for some 20 million years or longer. Thus, most of the trees on the island are unique – such as several species of frankincense trees, myrrh trees, desert rose (Adenium obesum ssp. socotranum), the only known wild pomegranate (Punica protopunica) or cucumber tree (Dendrosycios socotrana).

Dragon's Blood Trees, Soqatra
Dragon’s Blood Trees. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dragon’s Blood Trees

The most famous plant on Socotra is Dracaena cinnabari – Dragon’s Blood Tree. This tree grows naturally only in this island, it is found in hills, in the central and eastern plateaus and mountains of the island.

Dense crown

Dragon’s Blood Trees grow slowly and their age can reach 650 years. As the times goes, they develop very dense, umbrella-shaped crown, covered with leaves which grow only at the end of young branches. Thus the tree creates shadow which protects its stem and base part.

Dragon's Blood Trees and the dramatic ravines of Socotra
Dragon’s Blood Trees and the dramatic ravines of Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, / CC BY-SA 2.0

This tree is able to grow in dry locations (it can extract the necessary water also from fog) and if many trees form dense canopy, rich ecosystem has a possibility to develop under them even in dry climate.

Sap

Dragon’s Blood Tree gained its notoriety already in the ancient times due to its blood-like, red sap. It has found many uses – it is used by locals to cure almost any kind of disease, especially as a stimulant and also – to cause abortion. Earlier this sap was used also as a red dye and color for artists. It is added to the varnish of violins up to this day.

The last forest of Dragon’s Blood Trees

Dragon's Blood Trees in less dry habitat, with other characteristic plants of Socotra
Dragon’s Blood Trees in less dry habitat, with other characteristic plants of Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Earlier these trees were more common. Nowadays one sees them only in some parts of the island. For most part these are single, old trees or groups, with almost lifeless ground around them.

Dragon’s Blood Trees are very endangered in their natural habitat, mostly due to goats but also due to sap and firewood collection. Trees regenerate only in the most inaccessible locations where goats and people can not reach them.

The largest and best preserved neatural woodland of Dragon’ Blood Trees is on the isolated Rokeb di Firmihin – limestone plateay with an area of 540 ha which from all sides is flanked by deep ravines, to some extent protecting it from ominpresent goats. This is the only dense forest of these trees, with multiple rare and endemic species of other plants and animals. Some plants and smaller invertebrates (e.g. beetle Corticeus socotranus) have been found only in this forest.

Under the Dragon's Blood Tree, Soqatra
Under the Dragon’s Blood Tree. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Rokeb di Firmihin is exposed to the southwestern monsoon and rains here are most frequent in May – June and September. This area gets somewhat more rain than the remaining part of Socotra.

Unfortunately this unusual forest is living its last decades. Research of the age structure of these trees on the island shows that most trees are either mature or old and there are few young ones (1). It is expected that in coming decades more and more of the old trees in Firmihin plateau will die due to great age.

Fine images of the unique forest are found in this Czech magazine.

References

  • Hubalkova I., Prediction of Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena Cinnabari Balf.) Stand Sample Density on Soqotra Island. Journal of Landscape Ecology, 2011, vol.4. Accessed in 5.08.2014.
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    Rokeb di Firmihin 12.480190, 54.014032 Rokeb di Firmihin
    Coordinates: 12.4802 N 54.0140 E
    Categories: Ecosystems
    Values: Biology, Visual
    Rating: (4.5 / 5)
    Address: Asia, Yemen, southern – central part of Socotra Island
    UNESCO World Heritage status: part of "Socotra Archipelago", 2008, No.1263
    Area: ˜ 540 ha
    Dominant species: Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari Balf.f.)

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    One of the most exotic countries in Arabian peninsula is Yemen. Many peculiar landmarks are found here but the most interesting ones are its medieval cities and towns, archaeological monuments and the unique nature in Socotra Island.

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