Posted November 9, 2020 9:28 am by

‘Plantdemic’ hits Philippines as demand for greenery grows

The stress of lockdown and financial pressure caused by the pandemic have prompted a gardening craze in the Philippines, dubbed “plantdemic” © AFP / JJ LANDINGIN

Manila, Philippines, Nov 9 – A gardening craze dubbed “plantdemic” has spread across the Philippines after coronavirus restrictions fuelled demand for greenery, sending plant prices soaring and sparking a rise in poaching from public parks and protected forests.

Photos of delicate flowers and broad-leafed foliage cultivated in backyards and on balconies have flooded social media as housebound Filipinos turn to nature to relieve stress and boredom.

“It’s unbelievable. People are super interested in plants these days,” said landscape gardener Alvin Chingcuangco, who has seen prices for some varieties of monsteras reach 55,000 pesos ($1,140) each, compared with 800 pesos 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 the 40-year-old, 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 with a permit.

‘Plantdemic’ hits Philippines as demand for greenery grows

The gardening craze has sent plant prices soaring and led authorities to warn against illegal poaching © AFP / Ted ALJIBE

Thieves are targeting plant varieties popular on social media, such as staghorn ferns and pitcher plants, Rodriguez said.

But 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.

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