Socotra: The Most Alien-Looking Place on Earth?

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dragon's blood tree photo
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The island of Socotra lies only 150 miles off the Horn of Africa, but one look at its surreal landscape and it might be mistaken for another planet. Unlike most islands, Socotra wasn't formed by volcanic activity--rather, it was once a part of the African mainland, having become isolated over millions of years. As a result, the organisms that call Socotra 'home' have evolved with very unique forms, found nowhere else on the planet. It just might be the most alien-looking place on Earth.

Socotra's tall, umbrella-shaped plants have a name deserving of their fantasy-inspiring design--the Dragon's Blood tree. The tree's broad shape makes it an ideal place to find shade on a hot day. In the past, its crimson sap, for which it was named, was highly treasured for use as medicine and dye. If the Dragon's Blood tree seems familiar, you might recognize it from some editions of Microsoft Windows, which uses the tree as the 'Networks' icon.

Photo: Valerio Pandolfo