New technologies allow rare endemic cactus to be restored to the Galapagos

Did someone say Cactus? Galapagos Verde 2050 and its encounters with Española Opuntias: in search of cladodes, chimbusos, spines and rocky paths.

At the southern end of the Galapagos archipelago lies Española, with 60 km2 of volcanic rock, sandy shores and spectacular marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

As one of the oldest islands in the Archipelago, Española has been the scene of successful conservation efforts for several iconic species such as the Española giant tortoise, rescued from the brink of extinction, and the ongoing work with the waved albatross, with its only breeding ground on the coasts of the island.

More recently, Española once again became a natural laboratory where an ambitious project initiated the plant propagation of another Española endemic species, Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis, commonly known as the Española cactus.

One of the scientific endeavours encompassed within the project Galápagos Verde 2050 (GV 2050) was to fuel the propagation of the Española Opuntia using revolutionary water-saving technologies (Groasis) and novel techniques (Cladode-based sowing).

Cladode planted with water saving technologies groasis and Cosecha lluvia mixed with the substrate.

Washington Tapia, Senior Researcher from Galapagos Conservancy, said that this is a novel approach to ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems that have been altered by anthropogenic and natural forces. Through applied research and water saving technologies it contributes to the conservation of Galapagos natural assets, and to promotes the wise use of the natural resources by its local communities by means of sustainable agricultural practices.

With this in mind, two members of GV 2050 research team embarked on an expedition to Española Island (2128 June) in search of adult Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis Howell to collect cladodes (leaf-like structures that form from the base of the stem and that harden with time; Guzmán & Chávez, 2007) that were the core of this scientific experiment.

Following the action plan and protocols for the ecological restoration outlined by the project, it was possible to test the cladodes “rooting” ability on a rocky-heavy type of soil (J Gibbs per commens). Some 48 cladodes were collected from 17 different adult cactuses, the site of cleavage was left to heal and a callus formed before planting (P. Jaramillo per commens). Helped by the “garúa” (light rain or drizzling), the sowing of 40 cladodes with the Groasis technology and 8 without this technology was completed on the morning of the 27th of June.

Thanks to the efforts and hard work of the research team it was possible to carry the 40 water containers (chimbusos with 20 litres of water) up a steep and tenuous path to reach the sowing site, as well as to put in place a protective barrier for each of the cladodes to avoid premature predation by giant tortoises.

The project is led by Dr. Patricia Jaramillo from the Charles Darwin Foundation.

The outcome of a 6 days exploration: 48 cladodes of the endemic Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis Howell planted on Española on the ¨Las Tunas¨ area; protection in place prevents the premature predation of cladodes by the giant Galapagos tortoises.

We thank Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park Directorate for their support and assistance during this expedition with logistics and technical advice.

Chimbusos up! Cristian and Novalino going up to the sowing site carrying a 20 litre water container each.
Panoramic view from ¨Las Tunas¨, on the right Carlos and Telmo carrying up the metallic protection for the cladodes.
The team ready to go home: Galapagos Conservancy, Galapagos Verde 2050 and Galapagos National Park Directorate). Photograph by A. Román Muñoz.

Want to know more about GV 2050? look for #GalápagosVerde2050 and visit the Charles Darwin Foundation website:

Jandry Vásquez (GV 2050) and Cristian Pilamunga (GNPD) having fun while working.


Guzmán, D. & Chávez, J. (2007) “Estudio bromatológico del cladodio del nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) para el consumo humano”, Rev. Soc. Quím. Perú. ISSN 1810-634X.

Author: Ma. Lorena Romero Martínez from Ecuador.

Master in Natural Science and Junior Research Assistant for the Galapagos Verde 2050 project, based at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz, Galapagos.

Linkedin: María Lorena Romero-Martínez

Researchgate: Maria Lorena Romero


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Meet the Author
María Lorena Romero-Martínez is a Master in Natural Science and a Junior Research Assistant for the Galapagos Verde 2050 project, based at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz, Galapagos.