Monday, March 17, 2014

Tumbleweed: A Symbol of the American West... or is it?

You know what tumbleweed is. It is that brown ball that crosses the barren expanse between a dueling outlaw and the sheriff in Western films. It is a symbol of emptiness and the desolate that was, and sometimes still is, of the American West. Without it, how could Hollywood state that there is absolutely nothing anywhere! See that tumbleweed? That means this town is abandoned! See that tumbleweed? Someone is going to die in this pistol fight!

The funny thing is... the tumbleweed we know here in the US isn't actually suppose to be here... because it is an invasive species! On windy days it crosses your path constantly while driving down I-25 in Colorado. It just keeps rolling and rolling and rolling.... until it hits a fence. Tumbleweed didn't show up in America till the late 1800s. Its true name? Russian thistle. It is believed that some stowaway seeds found their way into a shipment of flax seeds to South Dakota from Russia.

Fences... a tumbleweed's un-natural enemy. Photo by: Matt Brincka

Now Russia thistle is considered a noxious weed, out-competing native species for the scarce amount of water these ecosystems provide. Essentially, this invasive is turning the habitat it lives in into a mono-culture, effectively producing large plots of land unavailable for grazing animals, both livestock and wildlife.

This pile of tumbleweed is roughly 6-8 feet high... that is a lot of tumbleweed.
Photo by: Matt Brincka

No comments:

Post a Comment