Skeletons of Russian thistle, better known as tumbleweed, pile up in a yard in Lancaster, California. cookjenshel.com
Skeletons of Russian thistle, better known as tumbleweed, pile up in a yard in Lancaster, California. cookjenshel.com

The Weed That Won the West

How did an invader from the Russian steppes become a symbol of the American West?

The trouble begins around sundown, when a couple of city slickers out for a drive in the desert become stranded along a lonely canyon road. It’s silent and windless. Yet one by one, like wolves in the night, tumbleweeds start gathering around them.

“They’re following us,” the heroine cries. When her husband tries to intervene, one of the tumbleweeds leaps at his eyes.

“It was just like an octopus!” he shouts, after tearing it from his face. “There was living strength in it! ... Where did all that energy come from? How can you animate a dead weed?”

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