A wagon train heading west to the California gold fields – the journey uneventful until the wind whips up on the prairies. Giant skeletons of dead plants known as wind witches or tumbleweeds begin to race around in the wind, spooking the horses and getting stuck in the wagon’s wheels. Indians are in the area, but no one can see beyond the dust and tumbleweeds. In the distance a bugle is heard – the Calvary is coming to protect the pioneers. But wait, what is wrong with this narrative? Contrary to popular beliefs, tumbleweeds were not native to North America in that time period. Actually, the plant came from the arid steppes of the Russian Ural Mountains. As far as the historians can figure, the tumbleweed was first seen in North Dakota in the 1870s. There are two theories as to how the plant landed on these shores: either a load of flax seed brought by Ukrainian farmers had some of the tumbleweed seeds mixed in with them and/or some imported sheep brought seeds stuck in their wool with them. No matter the means, the wind witches found their way to the United States, and within 20 years they spread all the way to the west coast. How does the seed spread so rapidly? It is a hardy plant – it can survive in temperatures ranging from 28 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, it lives below sea level to as high as 8,500 feet above sea level, and it thrives on barren soil. The seed survives the harsh winters due to its protected membrane, and then, when the warmer spring weather comes, it begins to germinate. One plant may spread as many as 250,000 seeds as it tumbles along. Another interesting fact was discovered on the nuclear testing grounds in Nevada – the first plant to spring up at Ground Zero was a tumbleweed. So, it is a race – what will take over the earth when we are gone – cockroaches or tumbleweeds? Only time will tell!
SharLeigh has an inquisitive nature – she is interested in current events, history, science and many more subjects, including things that go bump in the night! Since 1997, SharLeigh has scoured the internet, looking for interesting, fun and timely topics covering all sorts of human-interest subjects for her articles from her home in Fontana, CA.