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Re: CULT:Tumble Weeds

  • Subject: Re: [iris-photos] CULT:Tumble Weeds
  • From: "James Ennenga" jrennenga@outdrs.net
  • Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 22:25:13 -0500

Yeah, I remember the tumble- weeds (Russian Thistles). In the 1930s my parents had the H E Connected (brand) ranch in western South Dakota. The thistles would collect in fence corners and we'd burn them out to save the fences. Sometimes there would be a skunk in the pile of tumbleweeds. Brotherrrr!
Jim In Knoxville
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2005 9:45 PM
Subject: Re: [iris-photos] CULT:Tumble Weeds

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 truck!]. 
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.

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