Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Palo Santo Trees

Palo Santa Galapagos Wikipedia Image
Common Palo Santo
One of the interesting and unique flora in the living museum of the Galapagos Islands is the Palo Santo tree. We have two species of these trees here, one endemic and one more widely seen throughout South America.  Bursera graveolens is native and Burseraceae is endemic, meaning it evolved in the Galapagos and can be found no where else in the world.  There are even some Palo Santo trees that appear to be a hybrid of the two classified species. Most of the year, the tree has a gray/white bark. During the rainy season it displays bright green leaves.






Palo Santos Line the Lava Fields
This tree is often called the Holy Stick, not only because of its appearance, but also because of the incense-like scent that emanates from the oil and resin in its branches. The aroma is pleasant and not harsh.  The smell of the branches is reminiscent of what you may have experienced in church. The words Palo Santo translate to "the saint's wood."  In fact, because of this distinguishing feature, the common variety of the tree is actually used to produce incense.


A Red Sunset on Floreana
Here in Galapagos and in many places in South America there are beliefs associated with the aroma that comes from these branches as well.  Some think that Palo Santo incense can be used to eliminate bad karma and energy in a dwelling. There is an old Spanish saying that, loosely translated, says "Palo Santo to clean your house of bad energy. Palo Santo for good luck."  Given that the wood and resin do have anti-bacterial properties, there may be some basis for the tree's cleansing power.  Because of their fragrance and use outside of Galapagos, you may find Palo Santo branches for sale in local Ecuadorian marketplaces. Native Ecuadorians buy them for cleansing their homes, somewhat like those in the U.S. may buy cedar chips. The smell too is associated with a feeling of calm and serenity.

The Palo Santo is Glorious at Sunset
There is a more modern use for the oil that is derived from the Palo Santo tree as well. I've learned that its oil is used in some cosmetics. Now the oil can be purchased online and is used for aroma therapy, relaxation, cleansing and even as an anti-bacterial. I also read some interesting information on the Medicine Hunter blog, in which he reports that in a Cuban study the properties of the Palo Santo's resin were found to have healing properties and inhibit growth of certain types of breast cancer.


Palo Santos at Tagus Cove, Isabela Darwin Lake
Whatever the Palo Santo tree's healing properties, one thing is sure.  During your visit to Galapagos, you are likely to see the Palo Santo on Isabela, Floreana, North Seymour and Bartolome Islands. The endemic Palo Santo trees will be in the Galapagos Islands, untouched and protected when you come for a visit. No matter what's going on in the rest of the world, our National Park Service will assure this.

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