Worms and Flowers

Tumbleweed–Icon or Invasive Species?

Posted in History by Lzyjo on April 9, 2009

I was reading this CNN article, by bestselling-author Bob Greene, about the Terrifying Tumbleweed and the menace it poses to Westerners trapped in their homes behind walls of tumbleweeds. The enlightening article prompted me to do some research into tumbleweed. What I found was even more surprising.

Tumbleweeds are generally classified as members of the species of Salsola. Salsola is a genus in the family Amaranthaceae. Salsola’s include tumbleweeds, Tartar thistle, and Russian Thistle.

Certain species of amaranth, baby’s breath flowers, and others, do also tumble.

Tumbleweeds are annuals that dry out at the end of the season, until they break away from their stem, free to spread their seed as they tumble across the country. Tumbleweeds are unstoppable, capable of rolling over chain-link fences, highway barriers, and escarpments.

Stirring up all these images of tumbleweed, you may be picturing one rambling across a dusty road, running through a western outpost. This probably wasn’t the case, at least until after 1870 when the suspect shipment of agricultural flax seed arrived in South Dakota, imported from Russia or the Ukraine, where the Eurasian tumbleweed grows.

The irony of this story is, the South Dakota climate was too harsh to grow flax, but the tumbleweed did more than survive.  It has reached a level of iconic status reserved for saguaros, not state flowers, and certainly not invasive species.

Another interesting problem associated with the roving tumbleweed is radioactive plant material being carried out of Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The tumbleweed very efficiently extracts radioactive material from the soil via their taproots that is later stored in the plant material.  A 2001 article in the Seattle Times reported that search and destory crews were deployed to test and destroy all tumbleweeds for radioactivity.

To Learn More about Tumbleweeds Check

Wikipedia Tumbleweeds

YouTube Video of Tumbleweeds (Incredible if you’ve never seen them before like me.)

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4 Responses

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  1. ourfriendben said, on April 9, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    Good grief! I knew that tumbleweeds were introduced, but I thought they were sages (salvias). Now I’m really confused! Thanks for the update. i certainly learned something today!

  2. lzyjo said, on April 9, 2009 at 8:41 AM

    Good Grief Indeed! They certainly aren’t as innocent as they look. The bit about the mail order business (in Bob Greene’s article) is too much.

  3. Gail said, on April 9, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    Wow! Gone are the romantic notions of cowboys, tumbleweeds…and Gene Autry singing a song! gail

  4. lzyjo said, on April 10, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    Gail, I think we can still appreciate them in the movies. Even though they are a nuisance to many, some are homesick without them.


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