Birds have been one of the culprits of plant colonization on the islands. Wind and ocean currents also explain how plant life would reach them, providing food for other land creatures such as tortoises, lizards, iguanas, finches, and allowing the subsequent food chain to develop, with animals that eventually feed on previous colonizers to survive. Successful life on the Galápagos certainly begins with the many plants that have made the archipelago their home.
The coasts are typically lined with three different mangrove species (white, red and black), which have proven to be quite effective pioneers. Fernandina, for example, features mangrove beds along what otherwise would seem unfertile ground for anything. Seabirds thus find sanctuary here, and so the chain begins. It is perhaps more admirable that plants like the brawny lava cactus could conquer the more barren, lava-clad areas, peeking out from enormous impenetrable rocks… And more admirable still is to find a single white flower that has eked its way to the light through the cracks. The story of pioneer vegetation is as awe-inspiring as any story on the Galápagos. Cruise Galapagos Islands to better appreciate the flora.
Other areas are covered in Sesuvium, a carpet-like bush that during the ruthless rainless months on the islands, have adapted to drought-like situations, turning the ground into beautiful hues of orange, red and purple as conditions worsen. Cacti, such as the giant candelabra (that also sprout uncannily from the rocks) or the ever-present Opuntia (indispensable for land iguanas, giant tortoises and cactus finches) are also central to life on the Galápagos. As we move inland, however, it gets much more interesting. Because as dry and barren as the Galápagos may seem from the edges, the higher, mid-aged islands, turn lush and tropical inside. The highlands can even be home to orchids and are commonly shrouded in mist, a refreshing contrast that offers, yet again, its share of mystique.
Botanists have thus divided the archipelago into vegetation zones: Arid, Transition and Humid, this last one further subdivided into Miconia and Scalesia zones (depending on which plant species dominates them). The island’s floral spectrum creates a fascinating and surprising variety not only from island to island, but within single islands as well.
“When I drew back to focus my Graflex camera, the mirror was suddenly obscured, and looking up I saw the bird clinging to the lens, pecking at the brass fittings”
William Beebe, Galapagos, World’s End
Keep reading “Galapagos’ Islands Evolution“