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The Tumbleweed, an icon of the American West, actually comes true?



  Tumbleweeds caught in a fence in the American West.
Amit Patel / Flickr

Answer: Russia

Although there are quite a few symbols that recall the border history of the American West ̵

1; ten-gallon hats, spurs and low-hanging six guns to name but a few – nothing says dusty old cowboy town like a forest, well, tumbling past.

While the forest weed is perhaps synonymous with the Wild West, you might be surprised to discover that it is not a border resident. It is not even native to the region, or even anywhere in the entire North, Central, or South American land mass. The invasive weed hitchhiked with Russian immigrants in the late 19th century. The immigrants brought flax seeds from their home country and those seeds happened to be contaminated with the seeds of the weed Russian Thistle ( Salsola tragus ).

By the time someone even noticed that the weed was spreading, it was essentially impossible to control. An adult thistle contains around 250,000 seeds, and when the plant is fully grown, it dries out, snaps its stem and tumbles away in the wind. The tumbling movement quickly spreads hardy and numerous seeds over a large area. Furthermore, the plant requires very little rainfall and fortunately grows in adverse conditions.

Modern farmers regard the weeds as an annoyance because the weeds move grass and the dried-up tumbleweeds gather along fences and buildings, creating a considerable fire danger. But we owe a little credit to the sturdy weed. During the terrible drought of the 1930s Dust Bowl that decimated arable land in the region, the Russian thistle saved the beef industry. If nothing else were to grow and there was no normal food, the winter thistle quickly colonized the cattle pastures and whole herds of cattle survived only on thistle.


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