A Naturalist's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos
Smithsonian's Laura Helmuth vacationed in the Galapagos Islands and returned with even more respect for Charles Darwin
- By Laura Helmuth
- Smithsonian.com, January 30, 2009
Today the islands are filled with bizarre plants and animals. How'd they get here, 600 miles from the nearest land? By air, sea or rafts of floating debris.
Plants on the Galapagos tend to have seeds that float long distances in water (like mangroves), are light enough to be blown there, or are able to hitch a ride on birds. In the background of this photo of a Galapagos mockingbird you can see a forest of scalesia trees. They look like typical trees--they can be more than 20 feet tall and they grow in forests--but they're in the same taxonomic family as sunflowers and daisies!
These trees are a great example of how organisms will find a way to fill any unfilled ecological niches. Typical trees (until humans started planting them) didn't colonize the Galapagos. But lightweight flower seeds landed there and did pretty well for themselves, and now there are 15 scalesia species on the island, many of which have evolved the structure of trees or shrubs.