SPECIFICALLY SOCOTRA: Welcome to the strange island of Socotra. This photo series documents some of the strange landscapes from this small island off the horn of Africa. As always, click photos to embiggin. If you’re just joining us, this is what you’ve missed so far:
- Gone Fishing … In Yemen
- Specifically Socotra
- We’re Not in Kansas Anymore …
- The Myth of the Dragon Blood Tree
- Burqa on the Beach
- Attn: Crayola — A New Color For You — Socotri Cerulean
- My Day as a Pirate
Long ago and far away (from you, most likely) a sultan’s daughter fell ill. To help his daughter, the sultan announced that anyone who could find a cure for his daughter’s illness could have any treasure in the sultan’s reach, which was as far as the eye could see and as wild as the mind could imagine. Doctors from all corners of the earth came to help the princess, but none could find a cure. And the girl became gravely ill.
Soon thereafter, a man came forth and said he knew of an island with a magical fruit that could heal the sick. The sultan said the man could have any of his resources to retrieve the magical fruit. The man said he only needed a sea worthy ship and the sultan’s sharpest sword, for a dragon lived on the island.
With the Sultan’s sharpest sword and swiftest ship the man traveled far into the sea to find the island and the magical fruit.
It was the island of Socotra the man had set sail to.
The fruit the man sought, was a pomegranate.
After navigating angry seas, the man did eventually reach the island. When he found the tree that bore the pomegranate, he picked one fruit from the tree. He stared down at the fruit, wondering if the fruit would heal the sultan’s daughter. While his mind wondered, the winds shifted. He turned around and the dragon appeared in front of him. Reacting quickly he drew the sultan’s sword and lunged at the dragon, swinging.
As the man landed he looked up and watched as one of the dragon’s wings fell to the ground, making a dull thud, followed by a squishy splat.
The dragon looked at the man and blood began to spill. He told the man that the fruit he picked would heal whoever ate it, but if he picked anymore, the fruit would turn sour and lose its powers.
The dragon jumped into the sky, his blood spilling freely from the open wound where his wing once flapped. As he flew in crooked spirals attempting to flee to safety, his blood spread all over the island.
The man returned to the Sultan and gave him the fruit. Soon thereafter, the Princess ate the fruit and low and behold she regained her strength and vitality.
The Sultan said “anything can be yours now. What would you like?”
The man replied “I would like your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
And the Sultan said “So it will be written.”
The man and the women lived for many years in happiness. Years passed and eventually the man forgot the dragon’s words. He wanted more fruit.
He returned to the island, this time with the Sultan’s daughter. He wanted to take more fruit and sell it. But upon picking the second piece of fruit, the color of the fruit changed and its seeds turned sour. The fruits power vanished with the sweetness it once contained. Remembering the words of the dragon, the man knew what he had done. Instead of returning, they decided to stay and start a family on the island.
They were the first Socotri.
The blood of the dragon grew into the first Dragon Blood Trees.
Today, pomegranate on Socotra are still sour.
• • •
And this is how it was told to me, by Mahdi, a Socotri living on the island today (perhaps with less adjectives and classic storytelling references and abuses).
This is the tale of the Dragon Blood Tree and the myth behind the strange fauna of this strange island. However, the reality of the Dragon Blood Tree is almost as strange as the myth.
These trees are found nowhere else on earth and many are estimated to be over 800-years-old. And much akin to their fabled origin, they do indeed — bleed.
The blood of the Dragon Blood Tree has been collected by Socotri for as long as people can remember. Small blood-colored crystals are broken off from the bark of the tree. These crystals are then ground up and used for a variety of purposes, mainly as a product you apply to your skin. I bought a bag that weighed about 100 grams for 500 rials.
This and incense (also locally made on the island) are about the only thing people on the island will attempt to sell you. Their incense can be both burned and eaten, although tt tastes like you shouldn’t eat it.
While I am far from a botanist, these trees are extremely interesting. Bringing a Studio Gibli movie or perhaps a Dr. Seuss book to life, these trees just look odd. They grow well past 5 meters high and while a single one is big, when you get a view of a forest of them, you instantly feel trumped in size.
Like the Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, they also seem to have the ability to grow out of rocks. I can’t really figure out how the root structure works or how they get water to grow so big in the deserted climate, but it seems like they require no soil.
Driving around in a 4-wheel drive vehicle on top of stoney mountains your car will be dwarfed.
While the trees are only found in higher elevations, in the mountainous areas of Socotra, there is no shortage of them.
– This blog post was written and posted at an elavation of 40,000 feet on Emirates Flight 380 from Dubai to Beijing
– This blog post, is dedicated to the one and only Puck, who is quiet an interesting plant, herself.