Prickly 200 Year Old Giant Cactus in Galapagos

Galapagos Plantlife

What takes 50 years to mature, lives to be over 200 years old, doesn’t drink much, is prickly on top but smooth on the bottom?

If your guess was the giant cacti of the Galapagos Islands you were right. We saw some of these cool looking cacti while we were visiting the Galapagos and we thought they were very unique.


The giant cacti can grow to be 10 m (33 ft) high. They have a trunk like a tree, with smooth reddish brown bark. There are big brownish gray cracks running through the bark, adding an intriguing texture. At the top they branch out into what look more like thick roots than tree branches, making them look like upside-down trees. At the end of the root-like branches are large green flat prickly cactus pads.


I was surprised to learn that the spiny cactus pads are eaten by land iguanas and giant tortoises. The pads are juicy inside and provide moister for the animals. They just dig right into the fallen cactus pads, spines and all. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?

galapagos flora cactus

cactus-bark-closeupSomething else I found very interesting is that small finches build their nests down in-between the cactus pads. It would be hard to think of a safer place for a nest, who would want to tackle all those spines to get at the nest? And I would think the spines would act kind of like Velcro against the tiny branches and other materials used by the birds to build their nests, making the nest very secure and stable.

These giant cacti blossom December through January, the flowers are yellow and each flower only blooms for one day. We didn’t see them flowering, but I think there would be something very special about seeing a blossom that only lasts for one day.

Before our trip to Galapagos I was focused on seeing the animals, but as we explored my appreciation for the plant life grew. And learning about the relationship between the plants and animals intrigued me more and more.

On a hike to Tortuga Bay we saw quite a few giant cacti. We were able to get some good pictures and a better sense of the size and texture of these unique 200 year old giants.

Meet the Author

Hi, I'm Dena Haines! I'm an traveler, photographer and Canadian entrepreneur. I'm a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for travel brands. I blog at GringosAbroad (Ecuador travel) and Click Like This (How to Use a GoPro).

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