America’s Tumbleweeds Are Actually Russian Invaders

Some say the tumbleweed’s takeover of the American West was the most aggressive weed invasion in our country’s history

Photo: Diane Cook, Len Jenshel/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Today, tumbleweeds are a quintessential part of the American West, appearing in Western movies, songs and traditions. But the tumbleweed, like many of the people who live out West, are not descendants of true U.S. natives. They arrived as invaders from Russia around 1870 and have been impossible to get rid of since. 

The weeds first arrived in Scotland, South Dakota, likely in seed form in a batch of flaxseed imported from Russia, Zocalo reports. Just 15 years later, the tumbleweed (also called the Russian thistle) had rolled its way to both Canada and California. Since then, stories abound of "tumbleweeds driving ranchers out of their homes through sheer abundance," Zocalo writes. 

The tumbleweed bane is hardly a thing of the past, however. In particularly bad years, often coupled with strong winds or storms, tumbleweeds still plague plains towns. One town in New Mexico, for example, was recently buried in tumbleweeds. Check out that modern-day invasion here: 

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