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
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.