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Plants & Flora

 

Scientists first reached the remote Socotra Archipelago in 1880, when Scottish botanist Isaac Bailey Balfour collected around 500 plants. Over 200 were species new to science. To date, approximately 900 vascular plants have been recorded from Socotra, of which between 300(including some fifteen species restricted to Abd al Kuri) are found nowhere else (i.e. endemic species) they create weird vegetation - and make the archipelago the world's tenth richest island group for endemic plant species.

Many are strange-looking remnants of ancient floras which long ago disappeared from the African/Arabian mainland.

Socotra’s flora has strong links with adjacent parts of Somalia and Arabia but some species and genera have interesting disjunctive distributions: Dracaena cinnabar, the Dragon's Blood tree, is a tertiary relict with related species in southern Arabia, north-east Africa and the Canary Islands; species of Kalanchoe and Helichrysum show strong links with southern African species but perhaps the most strange distribution is that shown by the genus Thamnosma with T. socotrana on Soqotra and related species in southern Arabia, south-west Africa and south-west North America. Socotran’s flora includes plants which can be considered taxonomic relicts, that is with no close relatives, these include: Dirachma socotrana, one of only two species in the Dirachmaceae, a family related to the Malvaceae but with an interesting mixture of characters including 8 merous flowers, stamens opposite the petals and fruits with a dehiscence similar to that found in Geranium; Dendrosicyos Soqotranus the only arborescent member of the Cucurbitaceae and Wellstedia a small shrub of boraginaceous affinities but which is sometimes placed in a family of its own.

There is one sub-endemic family - the Dirachmaceae (recently a second species has been found in Somalia) and ten endemic genera: Angkalanthus, Ballochia and Trichocalyx (Acanthaceae), Duvaliandra and Soqotranthus (Asclepiadaceae), Haya (Caryophyllaceae), Lachnocapsa (Cruciferae), Dendrosicyos (Cucurbitaceae), Placoda (Rubiaceae) and Nirarathamnos (Umbelliferae). The families richest in endemics are Compositae, Acanthaceae , Euphorbiaceae, Labiatae and Asclepiadaceae.

Perhaps the most notable of these are the podagrics or swollen-stemmed trees, these include: Dendrosicyos socotranus - which somewhat resembles a small baobab; Dorstenia gigas and Adenium obesum ssp. socotranum. One of the most interesting trees, and an important potential genetic resource is Punica protopunica. This is related to the pomegranate (P. granatum) but has smaller and less palatable fruits and is the only other species in the family Punicaceae. Several species on Socotra are of horticultural interest for instance Begonia socotrana, the hybrid parent of winter-flowering begonias, and Exacum affine - the Persian violet.

The least studied groups are the lichens, bryophytes and fungi. The people living on Socotra, especially the Bedouins, have a thorough knowledge of the flora, and many of the plants have traditional uses, such as providing livestock fodder, fuel, building materials, foods, gums, or resins. The majority of islanders still rely on livestock - and thus of necessity on the vegetation - for their survival. And the many sheep, goats, camels, cattle and donkeys of the island are supported solely by the island's vegetation.

Plant extracts are still used in medicines, cosmetic and hygiene preparations, and in the manufacture of cordage, as a source of insecticide, and in tanning and dyeing.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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