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Scientists first reached Socotra in 1880 when Scottish botanist Isaac Balfour collected around 500 plants, of which over 200 species were new to science.

To date over 835 vascular plants have been recorded from the Archipelago, of which 308 are are found nowhere else on Earth. Meaning  an impressive 37% of plants are endemic; only Galapagos, New Caledonia and Hawaii have higher numbers.

Because of such high diversity and endemism in plants, the islands have been declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage and UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve.

The flora of oceanic islands are often particularly rich in species and show a high degree of endemism. Here is thanks to the long geological isolation and its harsh climate. It is believed that some of the strange-looking plants are in fact ancient remnants from a much larger land mass which have been preserved here as a result of the fact the Hagghier mountains have not been totally submerged for several millions years.

Many aspects of the flora of Socotra are of special scientific interest to botanists but also to non-scientists. Probably the most famous is the “dragon’s blood tree”, Dracaena cinnabari. The tree is so named because any injury to the bark results in a deep red liquid exuding from the scar. The sap has been used cosmetically and medicinally on Socotra and elsewhere since ancient times. Another tree with a long history of importance is the Frankincense. Eight out of the twenty-four species producing frankincense are endemic to the Socotra Archipelago.

Several trees of Socotra have adapted a bloated trunk which stores water, helping them to survive the arid environment. Probably the most famous example is the desert rose, Adenium obesum socotranum, also commonly known as the bottle tree. Equally interesting is the cucumber tree, Dendrosicyos socotranus, the only arborescent member of the cucumber family and one of the tallest trees on Socotra.

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