Dragon's Blood And Cucumber Trees? Near Troubled Yemen, Strange Socotra

May 22, 2012
Originally published on May 24, 2012 11:59 am

Yemen has been in the news more and more lately — and is now considered to be "the greatest external threat facing the U.S. homeland in terms of terrorism," investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill told Terry Gross on Fresh Air last week.

Bad news for just about everyone — except, perhaps, for the lizards on Socotra, a small archipelago off the coast of Yemen. Security issues have all but halted development on these four little islands that rank "among the world's most important centers of biodiversity," according to National Geographic's June issue.

Though I'd love to see it personally, I came across a lot of Socotra's surreal wildlife last month while doing a post about remarkable trees for Arbor Day. Among the stranger flora: gnarly cucumber trees, inverted-umbrella-looking dragon's blood trees, and desert roses, which writer Mel White describes as looking "as though a much taller tree had simply melted in the heat."

White says that the island has remained somewhat off the radar for centuries, though it has always been a pit stop for frankincense and sap from the dragon's blood tree — until recently.

"The number of endemic plant species (those found nowhere else) per square mile on Socotra and three small outlying islands is the fourth highest of any island group on Earth," writes White. "Every vista on Socotra, from the hot, dry lowlands to the mist-shrouded mountains, reveals wonders seen nowhere else."

But the view from many of those vistas now shows unfinished roads and abandoned construction — traces of development that started before the disruptions in Yemen. Who knows if it will pick back up when things settle down on the mainland? If, that is, they settle down.

Again, according to Scahill, we might have bigger fish to fry.

See more photos at National Geographic.

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