The Socotra Archipelago in Yemen has long been a land of mystery. Travelers told bizarre tales of the trees yielding dragon’s blood and cucumbers, forest and frankincense, and towering pinnacles in the mist. Today we have a clear vision of this semi-desert island covered in a rich and unique flora and fauna with over 30% of the plants growing nowhere else but here.
Indeed the flora on this island it’s quite unique, and far away from what we consider ‘normal’, where a lot of people refer to it as the most alien-looking place on earth.
The Socotra Archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa being located some 240km east of Cap Guardafui (Somalia) and some 380km south of Ras Fartak, (Al Mahrah, Yemen).
Today, 70% of the island is a protected as a National park. One of the most distinct plants on the island is the Dragon’s Blood Tree. It gets its name from its crimson red sap, which has been prized for centuries for its purported medicinal qualities. The people of Socotra still use it today as a cure for many daily health problems, as well as for dying fabric, making incense, and staining wood.
Despite the fact that this island has around 40,000 inhabitants, the Yemeni government put in the first roads just 2 years ago – after negotiations with UNESCO, which has declared this island a world natural heritage site.
Socotra is a dream place to visit, and it’s best accessible with camels, or bicycles. Check out on its website for available tour dates. If you can’t manage to be there yourself, scroll down below to see all the wonders one can encounter on this place.
The branches spread out into the sky and from below appear to hover over the landscape like so many flying saucers… and from above they have a distinct mushroom look:
There is also the Desert Rose (adenium obesium) which looks like nothing so much as a blooming elephant leg:
(images credit: Jan Vandorpe)
Dorstenia gigas – apparently does not require any soil and sinks roots straight into the bare rock:
Also found in Socotra’s landscape is the ever-strange and extremely rare Cucumber Tree (dendrosicyos socotranum) – and yes, it’s related to what’s sitting in a pickle jar in your fridge:
(image credit: Jan Vandorpe)
The climate is harsh, hot and dry, and yet – the most amazing plant life thrives there. Situated in the Indian Ocean 250 km from Somalia and 340 km from Yemen, the wide sandy beaches rise to limestone plateaus full of caves (some 7 kilometers in length) and mountains up to 1525 meters high.
Besides weird looking unique trees, Socotra is rich in fauna as well. This island is a birder’s paradise, with 140 different species of birds; 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. A unique Socotra warbler, sunbird, starling, bunting, sparrow and cisticola are among the ones found here.
Here are Socotra Cormorants:
And lastly, if you’re a thrill seeker, Socotra also offers the most incredible diving tours to see some fairy-tale shipwrecks.
(image credit: socotra)