Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic Image Collection
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Dragon's blood trees can live a thousand years and are believed to have medicinal properties.

Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic Image Collection
TravelFar & Away

See the otherworldly tree of life

These explorers journeyed 200 miles off the coast of Yemen to document the legendary dragon’s blood tree.

Two hundred miles off the coast of Yemen is Socotra, a remote island known as the jewel of the Arabia, where a species of otherworldly tree known as dragon’s blood has bloomed for millenia. With its unusual, umbrella-like appearance, the tree is native to nowhere else.

In March, photographer Martin Edström, 30 years old, began documenting how varying crises have begun closing in on this remote paradise. “There’s a lot of political turmoil, a lot of climate change, a lot of threats that we want to shine a light on,” he says. [Related: Can Yemen's 'Dragon Blood Island' be saved?]

See the unique and endangered dragon's blood trees of Socotra

Edström and his teammates, National Geographic explorer Ella Al-Shamahi and filmmaker Leon McCarron, made the two-and-a-half day journey on an Indian shipping vessel, enduring nights spent amongst thousands of cockroaches that climbed on them as they slept. Once there, Edström, equipped with a Nikon D850 and a Nikon lens, found a moment of downtime after trekking to a valley spot filled with dragon’s blood trees. He noticed his translator, Muhammed, begin to harvest a tree’s resin, prized for its medicinal uses.

“For him, this was a mundane moment. It’s just him waiting with the trees he knows all too well. You can really see the spiritual connection between him and that tree,” he says.