Foliage Filipino: Deepening a connection to Filipino culture through plants

Maycko Macapugas Foliage Filipino - Plants and Filipino Culture

Discovering plants and a connection to Filipino culture

For many Asian North Americans, we feel a strong diasporic pull back to our roots. While this can manifest in many ways, for Maycko Macapugas, it was literal. During the pandemic, with so much time spent indoors, Macapugas leaned into his green thumb. From that, he found a new connection to Filipino culture through plants. Soon, Foliage Filipino, his wildly popular plant Instagram account, was born. 

During COVID-19, the Filipino Canadian expanded his love of plants, adopting many new additions to green up his space. As his parents had always kept a garden and taught him about plant care as a child, it became a frequent topic of their FaceTime conversations. 

“Because we were separated, I was having more frequent conversations with my mum and we got into the discussion of plants,” he says. “I had a natural knack for taking care of them, but I didn’t realize until then that those skills were passed down from my parents.” 

Connecting plants to childhood stories

Maycko Macapugas - childhood photo 1 - Plants and Filipino Culture
Photo submitted.

During one of these conversations, the two got on the topic of a jasmine plant he was raising. His mother was surprised that the plant, which is native to the Philippines, could survive in Canada. After confirming that the jasmine he was caring for was the same kind found in the Philippines, his mother explained what the plant meant to her. 

“She told me stories of her growing up in the Philippines where she would see jasmine and how it’s used in [Filipino] culture,” he says. “We use it quite frequently during funerals or visitation services in the Philippines. So if my parents smell jasmine, they would be reminded of people they’ve known who have already passed, or of memories of people they grew up with. 

“The flower itself carries this memory for a lot of people. It’s intergenerational.”

Maycko Macapugas - childhood photo 2 - Plants and Filipino Culture
Photo submitted.

Plants quickly became a new way for Macapugas to connect with his mother and hear more stories from her childhood. Similarly, nurturing plants from his country of origin also allowed him to connect to his heritage spiritually. 

“The personal tie is there — it [means] something to my mum. And in a cultural way, it means something similar to Filipinos across the nation and all over the world. [Plants] carry multiple meanings and dimensions of how we live.”

See also: Filipino is just the first level  

Bridging the Filipino diaspora to the homeland with plants

Macapugas’s love of alliteration and foliage naturally led him to his Foliage Filipino Instagram handle. Yet, he was surprised to learn just how many people connected with his account on a cultural level. 

“I thought Foliage Filipino, that’s going to be super unique,” he says. “But there’s just hundreds….Probably every third person that I meet through that Instagram account is Filipino!”

Maycko Macapugas - childhood photo 3 - Plants and Filipino Culture
Photo submitted.

For Macapugas, who was born in the Philippines but moved away when he was still a baby, plants provide a way to nurture a sense of connection to Filipino culture. They also provide a reason to visit and see the plants in their natural environment. 

“I do feel more of a longing to go back and visit,” he says. Like many, he found travel plans thwarted by the pandemic. “Hopefully I’ll have the chance to travel back to the Philippines and see the plants in their natural habitat, meet with researchers there, and learn from more rural tribes in the country to understand the plants. Knowing I’m super passionate about these plants makes me feel like I can now more fully step into understanding what it means to be Filipino.” 

His followers agree, with a large Filipino community following and regularly engaging with him on Instagram. “The big takeaway is that plants are something that we as Filipino people are just naturally drawn to, and that’s something I don’t take for granted,” he says. “It’s a really unifying element for us as a people across the world.”

The importance of a plant’s origins and cultural uses

While Macapugas has been drawn to plants from the Philippines and enjoys filling his Canadian apartment with them, understanding the origins and cultural uses of any plant he acquires is important to him.

“I’m very conscious of finding the origins of the plant… whether that’s growth origins or cultural uses,” he says. There’s a story behind every plant, and the Filipino Canadian wants to discover it. Though, he notes that the beauty of the plant plays a large role too.  

“A lot of the [plant’s appeal] is the aesthetic, but a lot of it is also understanding that there’s a history,” he says. “Even some plants that are discovered by Filipino journalists or biologists, we don’t see that representation. But knowing that I have a plant that was discovered by someone of my origin is something to be proud of as well.”

See also: Plant-based adobo: Embracing Filipino veganism

Patience is key in raising plants mindfully

For others who are looking to try their hand at gardening, or connecting with their heritage through plants, Macapugas emphasizes being patient. “The guiding force for me over the past almost two years has always been just to be curious about it. When you feel like you’ve gathered enough information, just ask one more question,” he says. 

“You have to take a really strong journalistic approach to it. Check your assumptions about the plants, and start having a dialogue with the people around you who you want to culturally connect with. The only way to get there is by asking as many questions as you can. Be patient with the plant but more importantly, with yourself.”

Follow Maycko Macapugas on Instagram for more plant care tips and culture stories.

Featured image submitted.

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