The dragon’s blood tree usually flowers in February (1), although the exact flowering period may vary with location (10). The flowers, which grow at the ends of the branches, consist of branched inflorescences bearing clusters of small, fragrant, white or greenish flowers (2) (4). The fruit, which takes five months to fully develop (1), is a small, fleshy berry that changes from green to black as it ripens, finally becoming orange-red, and containing between one and three seeds (2) (4) (7) (10). The berries may be eaten by birds or other animals, including domestic livestock, which then act as seed dispersers (1) (10).
The bizarre shape of the dragon’s blood tree helps it to survive in often arid conditions and on mountaintops with little soil. Morning mists condense on the waxy, skyward-pointing leaves, the water then channelling down the trunk to the roots. The huge, densely packed crown also provides highly effective shade, so reducing the evaporation of any water drops that fall to the ground, and giving shade to the tree’s roots. In addition, this shading allows seedlings to survive better beneath the adult tree than in full sun, which could be why many dragon’s blood trees grow close together (10) (11). Dragon’s blood trees are reported to be slow-growing and potentially long-lived (4) (5).
The “dragon’s blood” resin of this tree exudes naturally from fissures and wounds in the bark, and is commonly harvested by widening these fissures with a knife (4). The resin has had many different uses since ancient times, including to colour wool, varnishes and plaster, to decorate houses and pottery, and in ritual magic. It is also used for many medicinal purposes, including as an antiseptic, antiviral, antidiarrhetic, and for treating tumours, and in addition contains compounds with beneficial antioxidant properties (4) (8) (12).