Socotra is one of Yemen’s greatest treasures of biodiversity. Located about 400km south of the mainland in the Indian Ocean, these arid islands play host to a stunning array of plant and animal life. An estimated 30% of the island chain’s plant life is endemic, as are many of the birds found there.
Socotra is an ecotourist’s dream – not all of the region’s animal species have been identified, and the waters surrounding the archipelago are relatively unexplored.
The plant life on Socotra is surprisingly diverse. There are over 900 known plant species on the island, a full 30% of which are endemic.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is the dragon’s blood tree ( Dracaena cinnabari) The tree is so named for the bright red colour of its resin. The resin was a major export from the Island and a part of the spice trade of the region.
It was used as a varnish and dye, as an incense, and body oil. The dragon’s blood tree, which is identifiable by its unique umbrella shape, is found primarily in the mountain highlands of the island; these unique trees stand between 3m and 10m in height.
Also dwelling in the highlands are numerous shrubs, most prominently Rhus thyrsiflora, Cephalocroton soqotrans, and Allophylus rhoidiphyllus. Socotra aloes also occur in the higher altitudes.
At the foothills of the mountains of Socotra there is a rich shrub land. One of the most distinct plants in this area is the Socotra desert rose ( Adenium obesum ssp sokotranum).
This unique plant is also known as the “bottle tree” for its thick bottle-shape trunk. Other succulents in the area include the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana) as well as both frankincense and myrrh.
Jatropha unicostata, which occurs on the lower slopes of the mountains, is prized for its medicinal uses.
On the plains and lowlands of the island the shrub Croton socotranus is the predominant flora. Also prevalent is the tree-euphorbia (Euphorbia arbuscula), which rises above the shorter shrubs.
Other plants of note are the Socotra begonia (Begonia Socotrana) and the Punica protopunica, a relative of the pomegranate, and the Persian violet (Exacum affine).
(source: Bradt guideline – Yemen)