Forgot to mention. I have no nostalgia for tumbleweeds. I guess
I've never been away from dry country for long enough. The common ones are
prolific annual weeds to be battled. They tend to keep out native species
in disturbed areas. When I was a kid on the plains, and we got those dust
storms, the piled up tumbleweeds would collect the blowing dust - that is the
top soil. Collecting the dirt is OK, but it generally piled up right where
you didn't really want it, such as along the fences, where it allowed the
animals to walk right over! They clogged up ditches, roadsides, drains,
arroyos, and were a fire hazard. They even caused automobile accidents [If you
see a big ol' tumbleweed coming at you on the highway, just drive through it -
they aren't very tough, don't swerve and roll your car or hit an oncoming
When I visited Patagonia in 1989 I saw a few patches along the highway in
one area and thought "there goes the neighborhood". When I was back in
1993, there were a whole lot more (something on the order of billions).
There are a lot of kinds of tumbleweeds, but the ones that are most
noticeable here out west (the prickly ones) are Chenopods in the genus Salsola,
the most common is called "Russian thistle", a similar but even more nasty one
is "barbwire Russian thistle". Salsola come from Eurasia,
but once loose here, they went crazy. They actually occur all over North
America, even on the beaches of the East Coast, but they don't often get much
notice except in the west. Many of the truly native tumbleweeds (most
are mustards, one is even a morning glory with huge flowers) are kind'a
pretty. None of them are so pervasive.
There is another really common introduced (and related) tumbleweed.
It is a gentler beast, but just as prolific of a weed. It is
usually called "kochia" (Bassia scoparia = Kochia scoparia). You can buy seed
packets of it labeled as "fireweed" or "summer cypress", but the packaged ones
are a different variety from the weed.
Both Russian Thistles and Kochia have one redeeming quality. they
taste good to best and human. They are very tasty when they are young
and tender. I especially like them cooked. The Bassia is kind'a
fuzzy, and that can be bothersome. However, the Salsola are smooth and
downright wonderful; if you like the taste of spinach, and can handle
that they look like small mushy spaghetti, you'll love them.
They make decent Christmas trees - southwestern style - too, but they are a
bit dangerous to put electric lights on, as they burn like gasoline (more
flammable than even the conifers we let dry up in our living
rooms!). They're kind'a pretty flocked.