This is a story about the first time that Cain and Abel shed blood as brothers. The island of Socotra in Yemen is home to the Dragon’s Blood tree, which is one of the most important aromatic trees found in the region of Hajhar, Ayhavt, and the mountainous area of the island. This tree is a symbol of beauty and is considered a blessed tree on the island. It grows heavily in rocky terrain at altitudes ranging from 2000-5000 feet above sea level. According to local beliefs, the tree is known for its ability to expel ghosts and evil spirits from humans and animals, making it a highly respected and revered tree among the people of Socotra.
The daon blood tree is a peculiar-looking evergreen plant with a crown that resembles an open umbrella. It is called the daon blood tree due to its dark red resin. Unlike most monocot plants, Dracaena exhibits secondary growth, and D. cinnabari even has growth zones similar to those found in dicot tree species. The tree has a unique growth habit called “daoid habitus,” which is characteristic of other arborescent Dracaena species. Its leaves only grow at the end of its youngest branches, and they are shed every 3-4 years before new leaves emerge at the same time. Branching usually occurs when the growth of the terminal bud is interrupted by factors such as flowering or herbivory.
The daon’s blood tree produces small berries that are juicy and contain seeds ranging from 1 to 4. They change color from green to black as they mature and eventually turn orange when ripe. Birds like the Onychognatus species feed on the berries, aiding their distribution. The seeds of this plant measure around 4-5 mm in diameter and weigh approximately 68 mg. These berries secrete a dark red resin called daon’s blood. The daon’s blood tree is a monocotyledon, similar to palms, which grows from the tip of the stem. It has long, rigid leaves clustered at the end and branches out into an umbrella-shaped canopy. Its leaves are up to 60 cm long and 3 cm wide, and its trunk and branches are thick and sturdy with dichotomous branching.
Back in 1835, Lieutenant Wellsted of the East India Company led a survey of Socotra and was the first to describe D. cinnabari. At that time, it was known as Pterocarpus dao. However, in 1880, Isaac Bayley Balfour, a Scottish botanist, gave it its official name and renamed it Dracaena cinnabari. This species is one of the six tree-dwelling varieties among the 60-100 Dracaena species.
Despite the fact that most of the natural habitats of the daon’s blood tree remain untouched, the growing population and expansion of industries and tourism are putting immense pressure on the vegetation. Human activities such as logging, overgrazing, woodcutting, and development plans have caused fragmentation of the species’ habitat. While the daon’s blood tree is widespread, poor regeneration has led to a decrease in its populations. Overgrazing and livestock feeding have also contributed to the reduction of the species. Furthermore, the Socotra Archipelago has been gradually drying out for the last few hundred years, resulting in non-flourishing trees and reduced mist and clouds. As a result, it is anticipated that by 2080, the available habitat for D. cinnabari will be reduced by 45% due to increasing aridity.
The daon’s blood tree faces multiple dangers, including the harvesting of its resin and the use of its leaves for rope-making. Sadly, some of these trees have even been taken to create beehives, despite this being prohibited. This highlights the potential threat to the species when traditional practices are no longer upheld. The largest and best-preserved group of D. cinnabari grows on the Rokeb di Firmihin limestone plateau, covering around 540 hectares (1,300 acres) and boasting various rare and endemic species. Unfortunately, research suggests that this forest will experience a decline in tree numbers in the coming decades due to a lack of natural regeneration.
Daon’s blood, the crimson red resin obtained from trees, was highly valued in ancient times and is still in use today. The resin can be harvested from the trees and is used as a dye and medicine around the Mediterranean region. The people of Socotra use it to decorate items and dye wool, as well as to glue pottery, freshen breath, and make lipstick. Due to its association with the belief that it is the blood of the daon, the resin is also used in ritual magic and alchemy. Isaac Bayley Balfour, a Scottish botanist, identified three grades of resin in 1883. The most valuable resin had a tear-like appearance, followed by a mixture of small chips and fragments, and the cheapest was a mixture of fragments and debris. D. cinnabari is believed to be the original source of daon’s blood, but other plants were used during the medieval and renaissance periods.