“I learned that the tumbleweed is worse than a nuisance.”
The winds are howling, dust is flying, tumbleweeds are rolling, and hair is standing on end with static electricity. It’s spring in New Mexico.
Living “out” of Santa Fe a bit in a new development, I see a lot of the tumbleweeds, and this morning they were flying across open ground like wild children in a playground. I haven’t been here a year yet but have already noticed that they seem to proliferate wherever the ground has been disturbed by new roads or construction. After a heavy rain last summer, I pulled up the new ones wherever they sprouted around my property, and as fall winds rolled in big old dead ones, I put them into plastic bags, stomped on the bags to make room for more, and put them into the garbage bin.
Growing up in Texas, I had always assumed that tumbleweeds were native to the West, but just recently I had heard that they arrived here from Russia, envisioned as cattlefeed. Since they seemed to be rolling all over the place today to attract attention, I decided to do some research.
I recognized Salsola tragus from a photograph in Wikipedia, and it did come from Russia, but not on purpose. The tumbleweed seeds apparently contaminated bags of flaxseed that were shipped to South Dakota in about 1870. The plant has since spread to hospitable soils all over North America.
I learned that the tumbleweed is worse than a nuisance. It contributes to erosion by breaking up the soil crust with its rolling and making it susceptible to wind damage. The resulting dust storms are bad enough, but the tumbleweed also consumes an incredible amount of water–reportedly up to 44 gallons per weed when competing with a wheat crop.
They seed as they tumble, so I now see them as diabolical rather than childlike as they skip across the roads, hang up in barbed wire and juniper, and pile up against my coyote fence. A sense of urgency has now infected my plans for confrontation and disposal. If I don’t do this soon, I will be haunted later by the gentle, sucking sound of bandit roots in a land where water is becoming more precious than gold.