The Alien-Like Plant Life Of The Socotra Archipelago Is Insane And Beautiful [PHOTOS]

By Josh Lieberman on December 19, 2013 3:30 PM EST

The desert rose of the Socotra archipelago is one of its most unique plants. Photo: Shutterstock
The desert rose of the Socotra archipelago is one of its most unique plants. Photo: Shutterstock

Socotra has often been called one of the most alien-looking places on earth, and after seeing photos of the unique Indian Ocean island group you may agree. Located 200 miles from mainland Yemen, Socotra offers otherworldly scenery, with one-third of its plant life found nowhere else in the world. That's because the four-island archipelago, which is among the most isolated non-volcanic landforms on earth, has been isolated from the rest of Africa for six or seven million years

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According to UNESCO, which has declared Socotra a World Heritage Site, 37 percent of the islands' 825 plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species are endemic to Socotra. Although the archipelago is just about 150 miles long and about 1,500 square miles, it contains 730 species of fish and 300 species of crab, lobster and shrimp. (And some 44,000 people live there, too.) The only native mammal is the bat.

With such insane-looking plant life, it's no wonder that travelers through the ages were drawn to this otherwise hot, dry and harsh island.

"The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all tapped the treasures of Socotra's natural world: aromatic resins such as frankincense, medicinal aloe extract, and the dark red sap of the dragon's blood tree, used for healing and as an artist's color," writes Mel White in National Geographic. "Adventurers came to harvest the island's wealth, despite stories that it was guarded by giant snakes living in its caves. The Queen of Sheba, Alexander the Great, and Marco Polo were among those who coveted Socotra's riches."

Below are the two most alien-looking plants of Socotra, the Dragon Blood Tree and the Socotran "desert rose."

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Dracaena cinnabari, the Dragon Blood Tree (also known as the Socotra Dragon Tree), is only found on Socotra. The mushroom-like tree produces small berries, and the red sap that comes from its bark is still used today in local medicines and as a dye, and is even used as an abortifacient.  

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The strange shape of the Dragon Blood Tree is an adaptation for surviving in arid conditions. The "umbrella" shape of the tree provides shade, which helps ward off evaporation and helps nearby seedlings grow.   

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Adenium obesum subspescies socotranum, the "desert rose" of Socotra, is a bottle tree that stores water in its bulbous trunk.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Like the Dragon Blood Tree, the desert rose is only found on Socotra. Also like the Dragon Blood tree, the desert rose's most prominent feature--it's trunk--is an adaptation for surviving on scarce water.

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