By Rose de la Cruz | Published: November 18, 2020
I am so delighted by the ongoing craze for gardening, but not when plants from national parks, protected areas and even residentials are being stolen for the sake of quick money.
I have personally been robbed of some plants, whose peso values and names I have never been aware of until I lost them to poachers.
Basically, I plant because it relieves me of stress and I love seeing greens around me — indoors or outdoors.
Fortunately, people in my small neighborhood are also fond of flowers, plants and even vegetables.
The Agence France Presse featured the planting craze in the country because of the pandemic just recently. AFP had photos of rangers patrolling the forests of Zamboanga for illegal loggers and wildlife poachers and plant thieves.
“Thieves have been targeting plant varieties popular on social media such as staghorn ferns and pitcher plants, Calling the gardening craze as “plantdemic” that spread across the country, the AFP said the coronavirus pandemic has fueled such demand, sending plant prices soaring and sparking a rise to poaching in public parks and protected forests.
Something To Do
I see the logic behind the planting craze.
People, during the lockdown, had to find something to do because they were barred from leaving their homes even for their work, which the government suspended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
It was but logical that they dabble with something — baking, cooking old favorite recipes (first for their own families and later to sell to others) and planting.
They turned to their neighbors for cuttings and other supplies.
Because the weather was quite favorable during the lockdowns, their plants grew and they had more things to sell.
The Internet was their most accessible market. Thus, thrived the plant market, some even resorting to bartering species among themselves.
For those who valued more providing food on the tables, they planted vegetable seeds and herbs, which can be sold even faster than the ornamentals and exotic varieties.
Hence, the generic term of plantitos and plantitas was born.
Quoting landscape gardener Alvin Chingcuangco, AFP said prices for some varieties of monsteras reach P55,000 pesos ($1,140) each, compared to P800 before the pandemic.
Manila plant seller Arlene Gumera-Paz said her daily turnover tripled after she reopened her doors following months of lockdown.
Demand remained robust even as prices for the most popular varieties of indoor plants, such as alocasias, spider plants and peace lilies, doubled or even quadrupled.
“It’s hard to understand people. When plants were cheap, they were ignored,” said Gumera-Paz who buys her plants in bulk from growers in nearby provinces.
But as demand has grown, authorities have warned that many plants on the market may not have been legally obtained.
Rangers patrolling the forests of Zamboanga in the country’s south for illegal loggers and wildlife poachers were ordered to watch out for plant thieves, after officials noticed some species posted on social media could only be found in the region’s protected areas.
“Prior to the pandemic we hadn’t observed many plant poachers,” said Maria Christina Rodriguez, Zamboanga regional director for the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. “This only became popular during lockdown.”
Removing threatened species from forests is illegal under Philippine law and carries hefty penalties. Collecting other native plants is allowed but only if with a permit.
Thieves are targeting plant varieties popular on social media, such as staghorn ferns and pitcher plants, Rodriguez said.
Catching offenders is difficult.
Once the plant has been dug up and sold “it is hard for us to prove that it came from forests or our protected areas”, she added.
Leave Greenery Alone
A spate of plant thefts from public parks up north in Baguio City prompted authorities to tighten security and issue a plea on Facebook for people to leave the greenery alone.
So far, only five people have been caught for stealing flowers, said Rhenan Diwas, officer in charge of the Baguio City Environment and Parks Management Office.
“Maybe it’s because of boredom or they want to generate income,” he said. The stress of lockdown and financial pressure caused by the pandemic have prompted many Filipinos to “the safest way to make yourself happy is through growing little things,” said Norma Karasig Villanueva, former president of the Philippine Horticultural Society.
Long-time gardener Ivy Bautista, 30, said tending her plants helped to “kill boredom” and earn some money by selling cuttings from her extensive collection.
But she opposes the “insane” prices charged by other sellers, fearing it could drive plant poaching.
“It’s ridiculous, a plant that I purchased for P400 is now selling for P5,000,” Bautista said.
“Be responsible plantitos and plantitas and be mindful of where the plants are coming from,” said Rodriguez from Zamboanga.
“We’re really serious about this because it creates an imbalance in the ecosystem once the species are plucked out of their natural habitat.”
Personally, I doubt this plant craze would last.