Cecille de Jesus started out choosing plants based on looks. The prettier they were, the more she was drawn to them. She typically chose nonnative ornamental and exotic plants.
Things changed when she came across a post about how vulnerable and endangered Philippine trees have become.
“The more I learned about the benefits of planting native trees, the more I focused my gardening efforts toward propagating them. This benefits not just us but the local animal and insect populations that need them—nonnative trees and plants cannot provide what they need,” she said.
De Jesus said that local plants do not need more effort than the usual plants plantitos and plantitas are already growing.
Her favorites to grow include bagauak morado (Clerodendrum quadriloculare) and katmon (Dillenia philippinensis) for their attractive leaves and ornate flowers. She also likes kamuning
(Murraya paniculata) because of its fragrant flowers, and molave (Vitex parviflora) because it grows fast.
De Jesus does not only grow the trees for herself, she also donates the plants to different organizations for planting in different locations, including in the Sierra Madre. She does this through people she met in the Facebook group Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts. The group guides and supports others in their native plant journey.
“I’ve only been able to donate around 100 seedlings this year but I’m always on standby for more tree donation drives,” she said. “I don’t get updates on the growth of those trees. This is quite understandable. Reforesting is a lot of work, and we need more hands on deck.”
According to her, a seedling must be at least one foot high or taller for a greater chance of survival. It has a trade-off because bigger trees means it will be harder to transport them.
“I can only hope those seedlings are still alive,” she said. “What bothers me more is, it doesn’t matter how many trees we plant, if we keep signing over our forests and mountains to mining firms and other corporations. We shouldn’t gloss over the fact that reforestation wouldn’t even be such a dire necessity if deforestation wasn’t so rampant in the first place.”
Given or adopted
As someone who works in the tech industry, De Jesus is exposed to a lot of future thinking. This is why she started doing her part. “You will notice this trend among forward-thinking technologies: They acknowledge that there will be no sustainable future if we don’t deal with the basics of the planet.” Curiously, while many plantitos and plantitas spend a lot of money for their plant collections, most of De Jesus’ seedlings were simply given to her. She adopted seedlings from a nursery whose caretakers couldn’t care for them because of the lockdown.
Once she traded with a mountain community. They gave her seedlings in exchange for a sturdy rope to aid them in crossing the river in and out of their village.
“I had seen videos of them crossing the river, and it’s pretty precarious. I’ve been told that some even cross the river with their children hanging onto their backs, and some people have fallen in,” she said.
But there were times when she checks the parking areas around her village where native trees scatter their seeds. She said that over the lockdown she was able to acquire over 300 native seedlings plus hundreds of seeds for propagation.
“I’ve expanded from looking for ornamentals to taking in species that have particular purposes,” De Jesus said. “There’s a native tree for every purpose you can think of: canopy, fragrance, beach foliage, local bird and insect habitat, mangroves, windbreaks, even storm-resistance. We have native tree species that can be used to prevent soil erosion, sediment runoff and landslides.” INQ
Follow Cecille de Jesus @theScientress on Instagram.