“This plant is dead, isn’t it?”
And so my first question to our Galapagos guide, on our first shore excursion on our first day, launched me into the first of many Dr. Seuss moments while traveling in the Galapagos Islands. “No, it’s alive, it’s a (_______) plant,” the guide responded.
Perhaps in some future lifetime I’ll learn to take notes, but at the time I simply snapped a few photos and resolved to find out what the guide had called this peculiar life form after returning home. Desert and beach areas provide many examples of plants growing in sand, and the light gray to white color isn’t absolutely unique, so that may explain why nobody else in our group seemed to be amazed by the completely lifeless appearance of this particular plant.
If not for the “Life List” and photos of Galapagos plants and animals provided by the College Park Scholars, I might still not know what to call the Gray Matplant (left), my favorite under-appreciated wonder of the Galapagos. One of the other first colonizers of volcanic wasteland, the Lava Cactus, seems to get more respect, or at least more mentions online.
The white triangle in the right corner of the next photo is a trail marker on Isla Fernandina (formerly Marborough Island), a necessity on a volcanic rock surface that shows no wear from foot traffic to indicate a path. Even though the ground seems nearly indestructible, restricting hikers to marked trails is necessary to protect delicate plant life, and the effort to do that is emblematic of the care taken by the Galapagos National Park Service to minimize any potential harm from tourism.
The trio of photos below were taken on a heavily used trail on Isla Isabela which takes you over a small ridge to Darwin Lake, a lifeless pool of ultra-salty water with no apparent source and a surface level which is higher than the nearby ocean. Speculation is that the higher water line was created by a tidal wave unleashed by one of the many volcanic events in the area, and that seawater seeping through porous rock replenishes the lake at a rate faster than evaporation can lower the surface back to sea level. Hmmmm. Given that whatever water is being supplied by the sea shouldn’t rise any higher than sea level*, and that any irregular addition of water above that level should just evaporate until it is gone, there may still be a mystery to solve. So, pack your bags and drop us an email when you get it figured out.
Although not endemic to the Galapagos, the Palo Santo (holy wood) tree adds to the mystique of the islands. Leafless for much of the year, the visual effect of its bare branches from a distance is like puffs of smoke, and at closer range, clouds of delicate lace. The vista from the trail overlook gives a sense of what portion of the island is forested compared to the area which typifies one of the most volcanically active areas in the world.
*If the pressure of the ocean can strain water through rock and into the lake faster than the lake can force it back out, so that the water level really is being raised, somebody should figure out how that works and invent a new hydroelectric power source.
Although not featured here (see Page 5), the Candelabra Cactus is another of the endemic species which adds to the other-worldly atmosphere of these islands. However, the animals are the stars of the show, and fortunately they are so plentiful that any photo of them almost unavoidably provides another glimpse of the amazing land and fantastic flora of the Galapagos Islands.
Galápagos Islands Cruise – Page 1
Page 2 – Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Page 3 – You Are Here
Page 4 – Galapagos Islands Wildlife
Page 5 – More Galapagos Wildlife
Page 6 – A Glimpse of Ecuador