Half a year into quarantine, Filipinos are desperate to bring nature into their lives – and the growing surge in plantitas and plantitos are proof of this. In a Bloomberg piece, some plant retailers and wholesalers have revealed that they now run out of plants – an unprecedented occurrence that have rarely, if at all, happened before the pandemic.
Cultivating more plants and trees is by consensus, good and much-needed in a time of global warming. However, there are times that, even with the best intentions, certain species can do more harm than good to the environment. If you are planning to start your #plantparenting journey or have just begun, here are some pointers on what’s good and what’s not.
Don’t plant invasive species.
If there is one thing that any conservationist would fight nail and tooth, it’s invasive species. Invasive species are those that are introduced to a habitat it has not previously been in, and then successfully spreads and monopolizes natural growth in the area, often leading to killing of other native species.
Examples of invasive plant species that have successfully invaded forests and farms in the Philippines include the large-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophyla), paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), hagonoy or Siam weed (Chromolaena odorata), coronitas or baho-baho (Lantana camara), ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala), Chinese creeper (Mikania micranth), yemane or gmelina (Gmelina arborea), Acacia (Acacia mangium), the river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), toona (Toona ciliata), water fern (Salvinia molesta), and water hyacinth.
Introducing invasive plant species to your land poses a threat not only to other flora, but fauna as well. Take the example of mahogany, a foreign tree that was introduced to the Philippines mainly as a reforestation effort. Mahogany leaves are barely of interest to animals and insects. The leaves decompose slowly and the seeds tend to mulch, both of which prevent other crops from flourishing. They overtake much of the forest floor. This is why in forests where mahogany thrive, including the famous attraction Mahogany forest in Bohol, you could barely hear anything. It does not serve any purpose to both animals and other plant species.
Do plant native trees.
Cherry blossoms are beautiful, without question, but they are not native to the Philippines. In many areas, non-native species are often used for reforestation projects, as they tend to grow faster than native species. The bad news is they also decompose faster, and they also tend to disrupt the ecosystem.
Non-native plants and trees not only have the capacity to be invasive and outcompete native species, but they also tend to affect soil nutrients and composition, as well as the feeding mechanisms of insects that rely on plants to thrive. All these, according to experts, accelerates carbon dioxide release to 150%, which is, needless to say, counterproductive since the purpose of planting trees is to reduce carbon dioxide.
They can also produce uncommon allergies!
Instead of planting cherry blossoms, why not plant balai lamok? It’s very similar and native to the Philippines. And instead of the non-native fire tree, we can plant dapdap or malabulak. Both produce beautiful red blooms. For a list of other beautiful native trees, check out this extensive list by Celineism.
Don’t buy wild flora – or worse, an endangered plant.
An insect-eating plant sounds badass, but if it comes from the wild, walk away. Illegal plant poaching is a huge business – and thriving nowadays too – but it also comes with a hefty fine of up to 1 million and 12 years in prison.
This is because wild flora are not only crucial in keeping the balance in forests and mountains, but many of them are also critically endangered. Endangered wild plants that are sometimes sold to customers are pitcher plants, Giant staghorn fern or Capa de Leon (Platycerium grande), Staghorn fern (Platycerium coronarium), and Waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana).
Meanwhile, threatened species include Green Velvet Alocasia (Alocasia micholitziana), Kris plant (Alocasia sanderiana) , and the Zebra Plant (Alocasia zebrina).
Wild flora can also harbor crop pathogens, mites, worms, and insects.
Our advice: Don’t risk it.
Do learn about your plant’s needs beforehand.
Not all plants are created equal. Every plant has unique needs in terms of sunlight, water, soil nutrients, and even soil salinity. Succulents like cacti and aloe, as well as kalachuchi and tomatoes thrive well in drought, while pothos and oregano can thrive in both water and soil. There are plants and trees too that love salinity like dapdap, and as such, they will work well if you live in a coastal area.
By making sure you know everything there is to know about the plant you wish to raise, not only will you save time and effort in doing away with those that are challenging to maintain, but you will also be saving precious resources like water and soil.
Do confirm that your plant is safe for animals and small children.
Plenty of indoor plants that are popular nowadays are actually poisonous to pets and humans if ingested, so you might want to check first. Some common plants that are toxic to both are philodendron, monsterra, sansevieria, bird of paradise, asparagus fern, euphorbia, aloe, and jade plant.
If you really want these plants at home, make sure they are placed somewhere that are out of reach of children and pets, or use a plant hanger.