See Palo Santo Trees in their natural habitat

Posted: December 18, 2019 by Cristina Proano-Carrion


Visit the natural habitat of Palo Santo, where the trees are protected, and no harvesting is allowed.

My niece Carolina Carrion is visiting us from Ecuador. Carolina is a Geospatial specialist at the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos Islands. And she is part of the research team that maps invasive plants with drones and satellite images in the islands. Her team’s primary goal is to have maps of the distribution and abundance of invasive plant species to support conservation efforts in Galapagos.

Palo Santo in Ecuador

Two species of palo santo trees are distributed in the Galápagos archipelago, the native Bursera graveolens, and the endemic Bursera malacophylla (Burseraceae). Native Bursera graveolens is the same variety you can find in mainland Ecuador and other countries like Peru. It is called native because it is not an introduced plant, but it came to the islands naturally, thousands of years ago. Bursera malacophylla, on the other hand, grows exclusively in the Galapagos Islands. Palo santo trees (Bursera Jacq. ex L.; Burseraceae) are among the most common and easily recognizable indicator species of the dry and transition zone flora in the Galápagos archipelago. Most of the year, the tree is leafless, but in the rainy season, it quickly produces thin blue-green leaves with toothed edges. The olive shapes fruit turn bright red when ripe, and burst open to reveal black seeds inside. Palo Santo trees (Bursera graveolens) lose their leaves during the dry season to help stop water loss.

What are the Galapagos Islands, and where are they located?

The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 major islands, six smaller islands, and scores of islets and rocks lying athwart the Equator 600 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador. In 1978 the islands were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz promotes scientific studies and protects the indigenous vegetation and animal life of the Galapagos.

The Galapagos archipelago is best known for its fantastic array of endemic species. These plants, invertebrates, and vertebrate species have evolved due to isolated island life. Endemism is high in all living organisms on these islands from lichens, flowering plants, insects, and land snails to finches, giant tortoises, and iguanas. Darwin first studied the wildlife of the islands taking note of the evolution of the land birds such as finches and mockingbirds that adapted to a specific niche in the available habitat. These islands are a natural, living laboratory with minimal human disturbance. The variation in elevation, size, and distance between the islands has contributed significantly towards the species diversity and level of endemism on each island.

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Is Palo Santo used for commercial purposes in the Galapagos Islands?

No. The status of National Park and UNESCO World Heritage allows for strict control of flora and fauna in the Galapagos. The ecosystem is very fragile, and nobody is allowed to cut the branches or to gather the dry sticks from the ground. The endemic Palo Santo trees will be in the Galapagos Islands, untouched and protected. No matter what's going on in the rest of the world, the Galapagos National Park Service will assure this.

When visitors come to the Islands, they have to follow these rules:

  • Do not remove any plant or animal, dead or alive, or even bones, wood or shells from the islands
  • Do not bring any live material or food to the islands or from one island to the other
  • Do not bring palo santo sticks from the continent
  • Stay within the permitted areas and only visit the islands with a licensed guide
  • Do not leave any trash anywhere on the islands or throw it into the ocean
  • Do not deface rocks

How can I see Palo Santo Trees in their natural habitat? 

I have put together a fantastic visit to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, where you’ll experience 5-star service in a safe and meticulously coordinated trip. During this trip, you’ll visit first Ecuador’s mainland with its breathtaking landscapes and cities at different altitudes and with a variety of climates and diverse cultures. We’ll get to visit a farmers market where those who want can experience a spiritual cleansing with native herbs and palo santo. Then we will fly to the Galapagos Islands, where we will board a deluxe catamaran that we have chartered just for our group of friends. You’ll visit nine specific points of the Galapagos Islands with a naturalist guide. Lodging and meals will be provided onboard the catamaran. 
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How many people can come on this tour?

This tour has a capacity for 16 passengers. Reserve right now as it is almost sold out.

Where can I find more detailed information and prices?

You can find the whole itinerary, prices, methods of payment, and Frequent Asked Questions on this link: Ecuador and the Galapagos islands 2020

See you in Ecuador!

Cristina Proano-Carrion


References:

Carolina Carrion Klier: https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/component/contact/contact/154?Itemid=150
Mapping Invasive Plants with Drones and Satellite Images https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/research/projects/mapping-invasive-plants
World Wildife Fund, Galapagos Islands: https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/the-galapagos
Galapagos Islands: https://www.britannica.com/place/Galapagos-Islands
Bursera graveolens (Kunth) Triana & Planch https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/datazone/checklist?species=232
Bursera malacophylla B.L. Rob. https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/datazone/checklist?species=233
Phylogeography of palo santo trees (Bursera graveolens and Bursera malacophylla; Burseraceae) in the Galápagos archipelago
https://academic.oup.com/botlinnean/article/161/4/396/2418350

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