The Galápagos Islands are famous for their amazing geological history and animal life, but little is ever said about their plants. Even though plants are the energy sources for the world, they are often overlooked for more charismatic fauna. But what I found on my trip to the Galápagos was a long list of plants that do some really interesting things. Plants on the Galápagos serve many purposes and are very important to the ecology of the area. Evolution and adaptation have shaped the morphology and distribution of plants just as they have the more well-studied animals.
Some of the ways plants are essential to these islands many not seem that important, but without them things would be very different. Beaches would erode without plants like Beach Morning Glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae) to stabilize it. New habitat would not be formed through primary succession if the Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) were not there. Where would the Frigate birds nest if there were no prickly pear cactus(Opuntia helleri) ? And most importantly how would the animals survive with out the food and water they get from the plants?
"Even the most avid zoologist must pay attention to the plants to appreciate the lives of the animals. Plants are often disregarded in favor of animal with there interesting behavior patterns, but the world of plants has a special interest. The minuscule beauty and many hidden relationships are all the more satisfying once discovered by amateur and professional a like" (Jackson, 1984).
The number of plants on the islands is very small only around eight hundred compared to the mainland of Ecuador that has around twenty thousand. This large difference is due to the harsh environment that the plants must adapt to in order to colonize the islands and the long distances they must go to disburse. Some examples of these adaptations are: Opuntia grows very large and is well protected on islands with reptile herbivores, the leather bush (Maytenus octogona) has leaves that are vertical so that it receives less sun; and Palo Santo trees (Bursera graveolens) looses their leaves during the dry season to help stop water loss. Plants that are adapted to the same conditions usually live in the same area. This is true on the islands, plants are divided up into different zones.