Plant titos & Plant titas
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Are you a “Plant Tito” or a “Plant Tita”? In case you have not come across the term or heard about it, the Titos and Titas of Metro Manila and other urban centers have evolved into gardeners and landscape “artists.” People who never knew the difference and use of urea versus Complete fertilizers, composting and hydroponics have suddenly become “informed” and committed enthusiasts. In fact, one of the fastest growing and thriving business communities nowadays are those engaged in the sale of plants and gardening supplies. There was a time when many of these “Plant Titos & Titas” were convicted plant killers accused of having thumbs similar to tongues of goats that kill plants on contact. Actually, both are an exaggeration since green thumbs are often the result of knowledge, patience and practice. The goats, on the other hand, have developed the mythical reputation of killing plants with their tongue simply because goats will eat almost anything if they were hungry enough, including the laundry!

But getting back to the thriving hobby and businesses involving plants, it seems that many “green thumbs” who love exotic plants such as ferns, ground orchids, etc. may unwittingly be “Green Thieves” as well. By “Green Thieves” I refer to the theft, illegal gathering or poaching of plants and trees in remote locations and the subsequent sale of these threatened or endangered plants. I just learned from DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon in an interview on AGENDA that many plant species that are commonly sold in weekend tiangges in Quezon City, Taguig and Baclaran as well as Baguio City are either extremely endangered, under pressure, threatened, etc. Those terms are just some of the classifications that the DENR uses to show how few, how much these plants are being harvested/poached in their natural settings.

Take for instance the beautiful stag horn fern. I often see these plants being sold at those weekend markets ranging from P1,500 to P3,500 depending on size and condition. The vendors give you the impression that they grow it back home in their province and bring them to Metro Manila every so often. Apparently that is farthest from the truth, the stag horn fern is gathered from trees in far-flung forests in the boondocks, as they say. Yes, some actually pick out these plants even at an early age and raise them to full size since some of the merchants live up in the hills. But the sad truth is that this particular plant is extremely endangered, not to mention very challenging to sustain or care for in Metro Manila. Unless you are rich or fortunate to have huge trees in your property and an ideal microclimate, chances are the stag horn you buy will dry out and die off like thousands of stag horn plants that have died through the years. Aside from the heat and pollution of Metro Manila, chlorinated water will ultimately kill this vanishing breed of plants. In fact, over watering with chlorinated water is the leading cause of plant deaths in Metro Manila.

There are dozens more plant varieties that you can check on the BPI and DENR websites and you will probably be shocked to learn that many of the “ordinary” plants you have in your garden are actually rare or threatened species. These valuable species are being ripped, poached and in some parks being stolen by “Green Thieves.” This is now the case in parks in Baguio City, resorts in Laguna and rock outcrops near shorelines where gatherers scour for bonsai materials. The giant fern tree that many admire and want to bring home from Baguio to Manila, ground orchids from the hills of Batangas and Cavite, the pitcher plants from many forested areas, these are sold so cheaply, die quickly and before you know it the next generation will only see these plants on Google.

You don’t have to be part of a conspiracy to sell stolen or banned plants. There are registered farms and sources that the DENR can point you to. You might even qualify to be a registered farmer/farm under the guidance of the DENR. But let us all stop buying “Wild Life” whether it’s flora or fauna. If not, we will reach a point when the DENR will have to start conducting raids, confiscations and impose fines on vendors, outlets and you the buyer. That is how the government effectively stopped the massive sale of parrots, rare birds and animals from all over the Philippines. For the moment the DENR is playing nice. But if the buying does not stop, being a Plant Tito and Plant Tita could get unpleasant if we are not careful. If it’s exotic think twice, especially if sellers tell you it’s from the boondocks or it’s imported. Many diseases in plants, trees and animals originally came from imported or wild origins. Remember that is the prevailing suspicion for COVID-19 – eating wildlife. ASF or African Swine Fever came from contaminated imported pork; many diseases of fruit trees are believed to have come from poor or no quarantine process. We never heard of Parvo until dog importation became popular in the ’70s.

Quarantine is an unpleasant word nowadays, but when it comes to plants and animals, you simply cannot disregard it. I recently restarted my koi pond and simply ordered kois from three different shops in a matter of several weeks. Boom! I suddenly had fish dying on me inexplicably! That’s when the words “Right source” and “Quarantine” hit me. So, to all you Plant Titos and Plant Titas, think before you want, check before you buy and consider if you are recreating the right mix and the right environment or are you just hoarding and buying because everyone is doing it  God bless you all with healthy plants and pink thumbs!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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