Depending on which side of the fence you sit, cacti, in all its various forms, are either loved or loathed as ornamental delights or prickly pests that can devastate ecosystems, wildlife, and livelihoods.
The issue was in the spotlight recently when an article published on the BBC News Science & Environment website ‘Prickly cactus species ‘under threat’ brought the issue of the cacti’s plight in sharp focus.
One in four people in Europe suffer from hay fever, affecting the quality of life of millions. The average cost of hay fever related diseases amounts to around €600 per patient per year from treatment costs and lost time working.
One of the worst offending invasive plants for hay fever sufferers is the North American common ragweed Ambrosia artemisiifolia.
By Zhu Zhaohua, formerly Chinese Academy of Forestry, China and Jin Wei, International Bamboo and Rattan Organization
Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable, non-timber and non-herbal plant. It has high biomass productivity, CO2 absorption and sequestration capacities, and high soil and water conservation capacity. In the lengthy history of its utilisation, its contributions to human beings are far beyond imagination.
By Anthony J Biddle, formerly Technical Director of Processers and Growers Research Organisation, UK
It has never been a better time to look again at the wonderful value of peas and beans. As vegetable crops, and as dried seeds (pulses), they have been a staple food for many developing civilizations for many years. At last we are seeing the health benefits of increasing the amount of peas and beans in our developed diets.
Urban farming has been on a steady increase for many years now as space for agriculture creeps closer to cities and consumers look to reconnect with what they eat. As well as appealing to the health and environmentally conscious market, these systems often seek to achieve community benefits; providing opportunities and education for disadvantaged and minority groups. The size and purpose of urban agricultural systems can range enormously, encompassing: allotments, vertical farming, agroparks and community gardens, ranging from subsistence to industrial sized operations.
By Glen L. Creasy, Sabrosia Winegrowing Services, France
Grapevines are an amazingly versatile plant. They survive in many and varied climates, they can be cut back and trained in many different ways (on a yearly basis if need be), and they produce a fruit that is made into a wide range of products that make up part of our daily diets.
You can find evidence of their adaptability by looking to the past: in their natural state, vines use sturdier plants like trees for support, growing rapidly up through the shady understory to the tops of the trees where there is plentiful light for making fruit. During the dormant season you can see how the canes of the wild grape (Vitis riparia in this case) over-run the tree it’s using for support.
The damage that invasive species can cause to the environment and the economy are well known, but impacts on human health have been much less analysed. However, invasive species can cause impacts ranging from psychological effects, phobias, discomfort and nuisance to allergies, poisoning, bites, disease and even death. Invasives experts Giuseppe Mazza and Elena Tricarico of the University of Florence, Italy say that in addition to these direct effects, some work in more indirect ways. Humans are menaced by alien invasive species affecting the services provided by ecosystems. “These services are vital to our well-being: changes may decrease the availability of drinking water and of products from fisheries, agriculture and forestry, alter pollination and impoverish culture and recreation,” say Mazza and Tricarico.