‘Plantitos,’ ‘plantitas,’ and the environment | Inquirer Opinion

‘Plantitos,’ ‘plantitas,’ and the environment

If there’s one thriving industry amid the pandemic, it’s undoubtedly been gardening. An overgrowth of plants can be seen on Facebook, with proud “plant parents” sharing pictures of their “children.” And one can buy plants in online marketplaces and highways alike.This trend is very understandable. Intuitively, we know that plants are a relaxing, calming presence; a source of refreshment and therapy amid a strange and stressful time. Cut off from our national parks and our beautiful mountains, many would surely take comfort in at least being with a part of our environment. Moreover, the fact that many Filipinos are finding this new “plant economy” a source of income is surely a welcome development amid rising unemployment.

However, this trend also has environmental consequences we would like to raise.


Some of the plants on sale are sourced from our mountains and other unique ecosystems, disrupting habitats and potentially further endangering plant species and the wild fauna that depend on them for food and shelter. With rarity and “exotic-ness” being valued characteristics in plant collecting, this craze might drive unscrupulous entrepreneurs deeper into our forests in search of plants that will command high prices in both local and international markets. Already, Department of Environment and Natural Resources offices in many parts of the country are reporting encroachments driven by the demand for these plants.

We also need to keep in mind that plants collected from the wild are not a good investment for your backyard garden or your apartment collection, as they will not survive for long, requiring the special natural environment they were in before they were uprooted by poachers.


If not from our native natural forests, plants that could thrive and overgrow under local conditions are brought in from foreign places. These types of vegetation are occasionally introduced and propagated in areas where they then compete and replace rare, endangered flora that are found only in the country and nowhere else in the world. The foreign plants can also bring along with them pests and diseases that can infest, infect, and kill other plants in one’s collection. These plants are considered invasive species.The global and local circulation of plants also comes with a significant ecological footprint, and so do all the materials used to tend to them—from plastic pots to potentially polluting pesticides, not to mention all the packages that accompany their transport and sale. We tend to think of plants as “natural,” but they are actually products of our economy, with all the environmental impacts such commerce entails. Plants also produce waste in the form of the material (e.g., peat) that are used to grow them on. Moreover, some farmers/entrepreneurs may resort to shifting land use from agriculture to horticulture, which, while not a bad thing in itself, could spell consequences to our quest for food security.

Of course, taking care of plants can foster a greater appreciation for the environment and a deeper ecological consciousness. However, we must take steps to ensure that we continue to enjoy living with plants in a sustainable way — for instance, making sure that the plants we are getting are neither endangered nor invasive; adopting environment-friendly gardening practices such as avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; and applying the 3 Rs of waste management: reducing the use of single-use plastics, reusing old plant pots and boxes, and recycling gardening-related waste.

Still, the best way to take care of our plants is to protect the habitats where they are sourced. Plants are a renewable resource that can be appreciated by countless generations, not only for their beauty but also for their role in keeping our air clean and breathable. If we can commit to protecting our forests and unique ecosystems—and supporting the people who do so—then we can preserve the biodiversity not just within our homes, but throughout our home planet.

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Theresa Mundita Lim is the executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity. Gideon Lasco is an anthropologist and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist.

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TAGS: Commentary, environmental protection, Gideon Lasco, home gardening, plantitas, plantitos, Theresa Mundita Lim
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