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Blankety-blank tumbleweeds

March 29, 2010

It was pretty windy here in the panhandle on Saturday. Quelle surprise.

I was driving down Broadway in Scottsbluff when I had to yield to a three-foot-diameter tumbleweed.

Eeeee! A tumbleweed? How Western!

My tumbleweed sighting got me all excited (though not quite as excited as these kids experiencing a tumbleweed storm in the Mojave desert). I recalled being awed by my grandmother telling a childhood story about tumbleweeds rolling through Minnesota during the Dust Bowl Days. (Really?!? Wild-west tumbleweeds in Minnesota?)

Yes, the tumbleweed is ensconced in American West mythology (cue the Sons of the Pioneers’ Tumbling Tumbleweeds), so I was surprised to learn that the iconic tumbleweed is a horrible, nasty, invasive weed!

In 1895, Nebraska made it a crime to allow tumbleweeds (aka Russian thistles) to grow on one’s property (though interestingly it’s not on the current state noxious weeds list):

Any person or persons, company or corporations, owning or occupying any land within this state . . . who shall knowingly permit or suffer any “Russian thistle” to grow or remain thereon . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and of maintaining a public nuisance, and . . .shall be punished by a fine of not less than ten dollars . . .

The 3-foot tumbleweed I saw was a baby. They can get as big as a car! Check out the tumbleweed road hazard in California. Wind-blown tumbleweeds pile up against fences and buildings and create a fire hazard; those suckers are really flammable. As I’ve tended to turn into a sneezing mess when chenopods are pollinating, I’m sure the severely allergenic tumbleweed will make my life unpleasant out here. Tumbleweeds are a problem in Australia, too.

Boo! Hiss! to the tumbleweed/Russian thistle!

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

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