What Is a Tumbleweed?

  • 01 of 04

    The Tumbleweed

    ••• Tumbleweed. Judy Hedding

    The tumbleweed is often thought of as the symbol of the American West. Actually, it isn't native to North America at all, but was brought to this country (unintentionally) by Ukranian farmers. The tumbleweed really is a weed, and its real name is the Russian thistle.

    Here are some pictures of tumbleweeds that I took on one of our rare windy days in the Greater Phoenix area. No tumbleweeds were harmed during the process of taking these photos!

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  • 02 of 04

    Why Do Tumbleweeds Tumble?

    ••• Arizona Tumbleweed. Judy Hedding

    Tumbleweeds grow on dry plains, in fields, and on roadsides, generally in grain-growing areas. Most people wouldn't recognize a Russian thistle plant growing off the main road, but is a round, bushy, plant that grows to about 3 feet. At maturity it breaks off at the base and because it is rounded, it tumbles in the wind. There is a natural purpose to this tumbling — the tumbleweed can produce up to 250,000 seeds, and the tumbling serves to spread those seed wherever it tumbles, guaranteeing that there will be more tumbleweeds in the future.

    Beware: this tumbling and seed dissemination may cause seasonal allergies.


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  • 03 of 04

    Tumbling Tumbleweeds

    A Field of Tumbleweeds
    ••• A Field of Tumbleweeds. Judy Hedding

    Tumbleweed Trivia

    • There may be another value to tumbleweeds — a study has revealed that tumbling tumbleweeds soak up depleted uranium from contaminated soils at weapons testing grounds.
    • The song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was written in 1932 by Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers. It just   might be the most famous cowboy song ever written.

    Tumbleweed Warning: don't try to catch a tumbling tumbleweed. Ouch!

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  • 04 of 04

    Chandler, Arizona Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

    Chandler Tumbleweed Christmas Tree
    ••• Chandler, Arizona Tumbleweed Christmas Tree. City of Chandler

    Tumbleweeds aren't considered as having any redeeming value except for the fact that they are interesting to watch as they tumble about. There are actually people (not many) who harvest tumbleweeds and sell them, and the people that buy them apparently fashion interesting crafts and decorative items from tumbleweeds. As a matter of fact, the City of Chandler, Arizona constructs their official Christmas tree every year from tumbleweeds! You can see the Chandler Tumbleweed Christmas Tree during the annual holiday celebration.