I decided to mix it up this week and talk about a plant that’s endangered. (Also in the spirit of Game of Thrones back in 10 days!!)
There is a such thing as a Dragon Tree; Latin name: Dracaena draco. Also known as Sangre de Drago. Originally listed as vulnerable but is now considered endangered, this tree is native to the Canary Islands, Madeira, Morocco and the Cape Verde Islands. If you ever thought asparagus looked like little trees, well, you were sort of right. This tree is in the family Asparagaceae!
It has an interesting background in Greek mythology as well. According to the Greek myth “The Eleventh Labour of Hercules: The Apples of the Hespérides” there was a hundred headed dragon named Ladon who was charged with guarding the Hespérides tree from people trying to poach it’s golden apples. Ladon was slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labours and it was said that the blood of Ladon soaked into the land and from it sprouted Dragon Trees.
Once upon a time these trees played an important ecological role. It is estimated that five hundred years ago, the fruit of the Dragon tree was a staple to a Dodo-like, flightless bird that is unfortunately now extinct. It was a sort of symbiotic relationship. The trees fed the birds and the birds stimulated germination of more trees from the seeds flowing through and out their digestive tract.
Nowadays, the main threat to these trees are rats, goats and rabbits that graze on the seedlings as well as deforestation. These trees grow extremely slow. It takes 8-11 years for a sapling to reach 2-3 feet. It also doesn’t help that the tree has many uses. The sap (dragon’s blood) was used in Ancient times for the mummification process but today it’s used medicinally to treat ailments such as diarrhea and fever. It’s also used as varnish and anti-oxidant for iron tools and as a dye.
Conservation efforts are slowly taking effect. For example, it’s against the law in Cape Verde to uproot or pick this tree in any way. There are also protected areas being established which include fencing the trees from livestock and other rodents.