Like all plants, the tumbleweed does not really have a destination to go to. But there is a reason for its seemingly constant traveling.

Other than to be seen in a Western movie, these plants have the universal goal of spreading their seeds.

Once its seeds are ripe, a layer of cells in the stem of the plant weaken, and it breaks cleanly away. At this stage, the tumbleweed is almost a perfect ball with about 250,000 seeds stored inside. The wind then takes control of the weed. The ball is designed so that when the plant hits the ground as it tumbles along, it bounces and it won’t lose all of its valuable seeds in just a single bounce.

Eventually something will stop the tumbleweed.... Like a fence, or a shrub, or an old trailer. Like all plants the weeds will eventually break up and rot away.

But tumbleweeds never really die...they just fade away.
Tumbleweeds are considered one of the distinct plants of the Desert Southwest of the United States. They are seen in cheesy westerns, cheesy commercials, and cheesy 'southwestern' art. However, they are not actually native to the area. Tumbleweeds, also known as Russian Thistle, are actually native to the steppes of Mongolia and Russia. The plant was introduced at some point to the deserts of the United States and does very well in the dry, windy environment.

Tumbleweeds 'tumble' as a method of dispersing seeds. When they die, they often break off at the base and go rolling across the desert in the strong winds. The seeds fall out of the plant as this happens, sometimes getting dispersed many miles from where the plant originally grew.

As non-native plants, tumbleweeds may cause some problems. They can pop bicycle tires with their sharp thorns, and they may alter fire regimes - they are very flammable when dry. However, they have not become as much of a problem as other plants such as Tamarisk.

Tum"ble*weed` (?), n. Bot.

Any plant which habitually breaks away from its roots in the autumn, and is driven by the wind, as a light, rolling mass, over the fields and prairies; as witch grass, wild indigo, Amarantus albus, etc.


© Webster 1913.

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