MANILA — More than six months into the community quarantine, Filipinos have turned to plants to cope with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
For 25-year old and government employee Anton Siddayao, being a "plantito" helped him focus more despite the situation.
"Tending to them is a temporary distraction from what's happening now, and allows me to focus extra energy on growing plants," Siddayao told ABS-CBN News.
And with the rise of budding "plantitos" and "plantitas," Filipinos also ventured into the plant-selling business to generate income.
Instagram-based plant and equipment seller Jayson Cainglet said that in the three years of their journey in the industry, he saw an increase in the demand of plants in the middle of the pandemic as as people's way of coping.
"Sa mga kwento ng old and new clients, nakaka-relieve talaga ng stress ang paghahalaman. Malaki ang psychic reward kapag nakita mong mayroon kang napapalaki at nabubuhay dahil sa pag-aruga mo," Cainglet, owner of the City Plants PH, told ABS-CBN News.
(From the stories of my old and new clients, taking care of plants relieves their stress. There is a big psychic reward when you see something grow under your care.)
"We are happy na yung pag-aalaga ng plants ay isa sa mga napagtuunan ng pansin ng mga tao," he added.
(We are happy that people ventured to taking care of plants.)
Boom of the plant selling business
With experience from the agricultural sector, Cainglet said that he now has the expertise on handling the business they started in 2017.
They have their own contact for suppliers of plants, fertilizers, and pesticides, and even for pots and other equipment needed for taking care of plants, he said.
However, with the pandemic, they had a difficulty sourcing and pricing the plants.
"Nag-increase ang demand, pero unfortunately, nahihirapan kaming mag-source ng halaman ngayon na fair ang presyo. Dahil sa taas ng demand, nagtaasan ang presyo ng mga halaman. Mayroong mga halaman na 200%-300% ang itinaas ng mga presyo, o higit pa," the plant seller said.
(The demand increased but unfortunately we had difficulty sourcing plants with the fair price. Due to the increase of demand, some prices of plants increased to 200 to 300 percent or more.)
Cainglet noted that other plant sellers have also received criticisms on social media about the pricing of their goods, which he defended by saying that many small businesses are trying their best to cope as well with the pandemic.
"Hindi naman natin pwedeng ikumpara ang halaman na nakalagay sa plastic or nursery pot na nabili natin sa probinsya, sa halaman na pinalaki at nakatanim na sa paso, at ide-deliver sa bahay mo," Cainglet said.
(We cannot compare plants in plastic or nursery pot that we bought in the province, to plants we took cared of in pots and delivered at your home.)
"Marami sa mga online shops na ito, palagay namin, ay sinimulan ng mga tao because they’re just trying to cope with the pandemic. Maliliit na players lamang itong mga shops na ito... Sana tigilan na natin ang bashing, lalo na sa small businesses, at lalo na sa panahon ng pandemya," he added.
(Many of these online shops, we think, started because they are coping with the pandemic. These shops are only small players. Let's stop the bashing, especially small businesses, especially in this pandemic.)
The plant seller said they are trying their best to sell plants at the same price prior to the pandemic.
"[Pinipilit] naming hindi magtaas ng presyo. Yung presyo namin ngayon ay pareho lang pre-COVID pandemic. Kaya mayroon kaming handful lamang na trusted suppliers ngayon. Sila yung mga hindi rin masyadong nagtaas ng presyo," Cainglet said.
(We try not to raise the price. The price of our plants is the same pre-COVID pandemic. That's why, we only have a handful of trusted suppliers now. These are the ones that have not really increased their price that much.)
He added that plant selling should be the passion of the seller and should motivate others to do it as well.
"Ang paniniwala kasi namin, dapat stress-free at positive endeavor ang paghahalaman. Dapat mas marami tayong ma-engganyo na mag-alaga," he said.
(We believe that taking care of plants should be stress-free and a positive endeavor. We should encourage many people to take care of plants.)
"Most plant sellers, I believe, are motivated by their passion and love for plants, while earning income. Dapat huwag mawala 'yung passion and love, while making profit, (The passion and love should not be lost while making profit.)" he added.
A plantito's journey
Siddayao said that he had other coping mechanisms, like taking care of his dog. But his experience with plants is different.
He said he experiences some mild anxiety attacks caused by work stress. But taking care of plants help him deal with anxiety.
"I am able to focus my attention on taking care of something similar to a pet. Although I have a dog, plants are less of the verbally communicative, and more of the visually communicative," he said.
"I think this has become more effective than any other coping mechanism I have. Aside from the joy of receiving a new plant, I am also connected to more likeminded people who value nurturing and growth," he added.
Siddayao is taking care of 120 plants and counting.
He shared that the "plant community" is also supportive and helpful in improving their craft on taking care of plants.
"The plant community is very supportive to each other, and we share the same sentiment towards joy and love of plants, and awareness to socio economic issues that affect the Philippines' biodiversity through it's flora and fauna, and likewise protecting endemic plants, native to our country," he said.
He added he had learned a lot from the community, not just on how to take care of their plants but also about the environment.
"I hope now, more than ever, as a plant parent, we engage and educate ourselves so that we can save what we can, and address these issues early on, to avoid what is happening now - plant poaching, plant theft, rise in demand for plants, and increase in prices," Siddayao said.
"It was never a competition, but the awe and joy of taking care of a plant. How these plants eased our mental woes, and have become an engaging community to talk about our planet's biodiversity, and more importantly how to protect our national flora and fauna," he added.
The government employee said that although it has only been five months since he started taking care of plants, he could already recommend the habit to others.
"My friend would ask me if I wanted to purchase plants when he would visit a nursery. And after a few times of buying, I got hooked and could not stop," Siddayao said.
"Yes, i would recommend it, although it's not for everybody. You learn and value patience and the simplicity of owning a plant," he said.
How taking care of plants helps one's mental health?
Psychologist Renz Argao told ABS-CBN News that taking care of plants is a way of engaging in positive activities that help people cope with the pandemic.
"Taking care of plants have benefits on our well-being through engaging in positive activities that also allow us to cope, especially during the pandemic," he said.
"Taking care of plants is also a way to practice mindfulness and can be a positive distraction from your stressors. It is also a good mental and physical exercise," he added.
Argao said it may have the same benefits as other coping mechanisms, but taking care of plants can improve the physical and mental well-being of a person.
"[The] benefit is similar to other positive or adaptive coping. You can get the same effects from practicing other forms of mindfulness, breathing exercises, or engaging in other activities that you enjoy or like, such as baking or cooking or engaging in sports," Argao said.
"Plants also improve the quality of air which can help physical and mental well-being," he added.