Tumbleweeds in Central California

A video showing tumbleweeds blowing across a field. But that doesn't fully describe what you'll see. The tumble weeds appear to be a herd of wild animals being spooked into panic by a predator. A previous Photo of the Week selection.

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Video this week:
A Herd of Tumbleweeds flees in panic
from the wind. You never know what you might see along
a Central California backroad!

This video has become famous! Well, perhaps "well-known" might better describe it. PBS station KQED in San Francisco featured it in a nice science feature they have called "Deep Look". If you'd like to learn more about the science of tumbleweeds

click here for the KQED site.

Click on any of the photos on this page and all the photos will be viewable in larger sizes.

Photo of the Week for 25 January 2013 (updated 9 July 2018)


Last weeks Photo of the Week was about the weather here in Central California. During this week, I came across this most unusual sight of an entire field of tumbleweeds being blown by wind from a storm front.

This is certainly nothing that can be planned for or even sought out. I just happened to be right where the drama was unfolding at the right time.

Tumbleweed in a fence

A tumbler stuck in a fence. In windy places this is where most of them end up.

Tumble weeds are a common prop in western movies as a useful device for showing emptiness, desolation and remoteness. Think of the western hero, walking through the streets of an abandoned town attempting to figure out what bad fate befell the inhabitants. The scene just isn't complete without some wind and tumbling tumble weeds skittering through.

The icon of loneliness and desolation

The funny thing about tumblers and how they stand in for all those feelings and emotions is that they aren't even native to this continent. And they haven't been around for all that long.

They originally came from Russia in the 1870's when some flax seed (used for linen) was contaminated with this weed seed. Starting out in South Dakota and in less than 150 years they are everywhere in the central and western parts of the country.

It had most likely already spread to today's extent 100 years ago. The Son's of the Pioneers classic song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was released in 1934 and no one had to explain what that plant symbolized. It was already firmly entrenched in the nation's psyche.

Loaded with seeds, but not quite dry enough to tumble yet

Click on the photo to better view all the seeds on this tumble weed.

Native or not, this is a really noxious weed. Its tumbling characteristic is a superb adaptation for spreading its seeds everywhere it rolls. As the weed begins to dry out it essentially severs its connection to its roots so that the slightest wind will carry it away.

It ends up in huge drifts along fence lines and it is an economic drain on already hard-pressed farmers and ranchers to get rid of it.

If that weren't bad enough, it is a master at drawing water from what seems to be parched earth and denying that precious resource to beneficial plants. The yellow star thistle is another terrible weed which out-competes crops for water.

Emptiness, desolation and loneliness waiting to happen

Hard to get rid of

An old farmer's saying goes like this: "One year seeds, seven years weeds". Meaning, get the weeds before they go to seed or your battle is already lost.

I think we lost the tumble weed battle long ago.

If you come across a place in the desolate and forsaken parts of the country where tumbleweeds are being blown over the road, be careful. They conglomerate and join together and form huge balls. I don't think they'll damage your vehicle, but they do get stuck underneath and could ignite.

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