Nothing reminds me of Colorado’s cowtown roots quite like a field of rolling tumbleweeds on a windy summer day. You can expect to see more and more of these thistly balls of dried up brambles this time of year as temperatures drop and shrubbery begins to die for the season.
Tumbleweeds can be formed by a number of shrub-like plants, but most commonly they begin their lives as Russian thistle, a non-native invasive species thought to have hitched a ride to the U.S. from overseas back in the late 1800s. In the fall and winter, these thistle bushes dry up, die, detach from their root systems, and spend the rest of their existence blowing aimlessly across open fields, pinned under cars, and otherwise being moderately annoying.
Though mule deer, prairie dogs, cattle, and other local animals feed on Russian thistle, once they transform into a tumbleweed, they’re not so harmless. One of the biggest hazards tumbleweeds pose is fire risk (I mean, they’re basically quick-moving tinderboxes on a windy day!). Too many of them can cause roadblocks (see #tumblegeddon in the image above 👆) or clog irrigation canals. And thanks to their ever-mobile nature, it’s almost impossible to reign in their spread.
Experts advise that the best way to take control of tumbleweeds is to (literally) nip Russian thistle shrubs in the bud!