Plant of the week: Dracaena cinnabari

Dracaena cinnabari, also known as the dragon blood tree, is a species in the family Asparagaceae. Other species in the same family include the asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and it is in the same order as the orchids, Asparagales. Species in the genera Dracaena as well as Pterocarpus and Daemonorops have a dark red sap, indicating why they have earnt the name dragon blood trees.

Dracaeana_cinnabari_resin

Habitat and biology

Native to the Socotra archipelago of Yemen, Dracaena cinnabari is found in desert environments. Typically they can easily survive rainfall of lower than 250mm per year and are well suited to constant dehydration stress. They resemble an upturned umbrella having no leaves below the top of the plant. Short and spiny leaves are packed into this large crown which provides the lower part of the plant with shade. The small leaves also help the plant reduce evaporation losses. This shade also helps seedlings to establish which is why Dracaena cinnabari are often found in close proximity [1].

Dracaena_cinnabari

Conservation

The Dragon Blood tree is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list. Anthropogenic activities in the area are the main causes threatening its survival in Socotra archipelago. Logging, grazing and harvest of its resin have led to the population decline [2].

Uses

The resin is harvested for a plethora of activities including dying wool, as an adhesive in pottery and in the 18th century was even used as a varnish for violins. In the ancient world, dragon blood resin was seen as a cure for all sorts of ailments. As such it was prescribed for fevers, diarrhea and ulcers. Due to the belief that the resin derived from the blood of the dragon, the resin is noted as being commonly used in ritual magic and alchemy [3].

If you want to learn more:

  1. Adolt, R. & Pavlis, J. (2004). Age structure and growth of Dracaena cinnabaripopulations on Socotra. Trees, 18(1). 43 – 53.
  2. Attorre, F. et al. (2007). Will dragonblood survive the next period of climate change? Current and future potential distribution of Dracaena cinnabari(Socotra, Yemen). Biological Conservation, 138(3-4). 430 – 439.
  3. IUCN. (2018). Dracaena cinnabri – International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN. [online] Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/30428/0.

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