PlantCito B.C.

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - November 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Ever since I started posting plant-related thoughts on Facebook, a number of my friends have started to call me “PlantCito,” a personalized reference to being one of the Plantitos and Plantitas who’ve gone crazy over plants and gardening. Spoiler Alert: I’ve long been plant crazy and an advocate of “Natural Gardening,” meaning plant whatever you want wherever you want.

That is why I titled the column PlantCito B.C., meaning Before Covid. While I don’t know all the names and science for all the plants, I can say with modesty that we’ve managed to gather a variety of plants and have learned their habits, needs and the challenges in caring for them. That doesn’t mean I do so because GOD knows I’ve killed my fair share of plants.

Take note: you will kill plants if you get into this hobby. I also used to travel all over the Philippines and encountered hundreds of different plants along the way.

Before we go any further, please observe one important thing concerning collecting, owning and caring for plants: Don’t buy out of envy and ignorance. So many people throw cash at their wants but simply end up with plants or “toys” they can’t care for, no matter what. I only get what I need and/or for a purpose; either for sustenance or for design projects.

Plants that grow on trees don’t belong in pots, no matter how big the pot. Plants that require full sunlight are not for indoors, no matter how impressive. Unless you are planning to make a bonsai and have the skills, please don’t keep trees in pots, even if some Youtuber does a video showing it can be done. Learn first! It’s not just about wasting money, plants are living things.

Not to poke fun at friends and fellow enthusiasts, but folks out here in the “province” are scratching their heads over the insanity that has possessed Metro Manilans who are paying big bucks (P1,000+) for what vendors call “Giant...this or that,” in particular the wild yams or local Gabing Ligaw, a relative of the smaller gabi where we get the root crop for mixing into sinigang meals. We all complain about sili or ampalaya costing P300 a kilo but think nothing of paying P1,000 for a variety called Giant Gabi that is wild and could pose a risk. Please be careful with these because the very common and large variety that is non-edible can also cause severe allergies or rashes. These types of plants also require a lot of water but NOT tap water that is heavily chlorinated, and they need room to grow to potential. A large pot is not large enough.

Some people have been charging thousands of pesos for plantings and cuttings of wild vines such as Monstera Deliciosa and the like. Look it up on Google and some of you might find it incredulous to know people will pay thousands for what probinsyanos call Ligaw na Baging or wild vine. The plant is often seen climbing up coconut trees, acacia and mango trees, especially where people don’t disturb them. Sadly, this plant is now being offered as an indoor plant where it won’t have a tree to climb up on. You could lead it up a wall but that will take years and the plant will have to be left in a place where, as it grows, it will leech on to the paint and concrete and leave a spidery mess of fine hair-roots and aerial roots. Unless you have the ideal spot as required by the plant, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

I have been planning to create a wall of plants (what plant Vloggers now glamorize as Living Walls) and, by coincidence, the centerpiece of the design is the creeping large leaf Monstera Deliciosa. The area is approximately 3.5 meters by 9 meters flat wall and anyone who does the required research will immediately learn that to grow plants to cover that space will take YEARS if you start with cuttings and saplings. The plant itself would thrive primarily on the bark surface of trees, need humidity and bright but indirect sunlight. In other words, you are in for a ton of engineering and plant care challenges. Of course we all want to short cut the process but, sorry to say, life is not an equal opportunity player in the field of creative challenges.

It took me two months to find the perfect plant material and it was in our backyard farm all along, located among several trees where they have grown wild. Then we spent an hour or more to gently, slowly, lift and separate the vine from the host tree which required a series of straw ropes and ladders, then handled the plant with care. After that I had to borrow a truck long enough to transport the plant. Before that even happens we had to scrounge around the farm for sawed strips of the bark of trees that fell during past typhoons. These will be cut to shape to follow the contour of the plant, bolted on to the wall and will serve as the host surface for the plants.

If by GOD’s will I manage to achieve all that without incident, the next step is to set up three or four GRO-Lights or artificial lighting for indoor plants to augment its requirements. It’s easier to read on paper, but in real life this is like one of my major effort projects but it’s been part of a bucket list and what I hope to put down as “Something to show for during COVID-19.”

I share all this with aspiring plant lovers with big dreams and plans. Always do the research and PRAY. When you collect plants long enough you will become a prayerful person!

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