Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

Kansas Tumbleweed along Country Road
Driving toward the farm I spotted a magnificent tumbleweed.  Seeing tumbleweeds caught in fences or trapped along roadsides is common in Kansas this time of year, and I drove past this one quite a ways before putting on the brakes.  Cautiously I looked for other cars--not only because I was concerned that someone might hit me as I began backing up but also because I wanted to spare myself the embarrassment of anyone catching me photographing a common weed.  As I moved around the tumbleweed taking pictures, I saw an approaching pickup in the distance, but it turned at the intersection to the east, and I was saved from explaining my reasons for photographing ditch trash.
Isaac's nemesis was not tumbleweeds but rather sunflowers and sandburrs, which he spent hours hoeing around the base of his young trees.  Yet, surely he too saw tumbleweeds rolling across the prairie.
Bottom showing break from root
Interestingly, a tumbleweed is not a particular plant.  The name can be applied to any number of mature, dried plants that pull away from the root to roll and tumble in the wind.  Scientifically these tumbleweeds are diaspora, whose tumbling and rolling habit disperses seeds as they roll.  As anyone who has seen ditches filled with growing tumbleweeds knows, the seeds take root in a wet location, whether dropped as the dry parent weed tumbled or still attached to a plant caught in the ditch.  Among some of the plants called tumbleweeds are Russian thistles, baby's-breath, and plants in the aster family, the legume family, and the mustard family. 
The brown fields and trees in the distance in the photograph to the left are Isaac's homestead and timber claim.
Tumbleweeds--growing and caught in fence
As I continued driving, I photographed this iconic image of two tumbleweeds--one still attached to its root in the sandy soil and the other caught in a barbed wire pasture fence.  In the background is a thicket of sandhill plums.
For many of us, we can't think of tumbleweeds without the melody of a cowboy song running through our minds.  "See them tumbling down, Pledging their love to the ground; Lonely but free I'll be found, Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds..."
You can hear Marty Robbins sing those words at  or enjoy the singing of the Sons of the Pioneers at in a clip from an old Roy Rogers movie.  If these links do not open, go to and enter Marty Robbins + Tumbling Tumbleweeds to hear Marty, and enter Sons of the Pioneers + Tumbling Tumbleweeds to hear the Roy Rogers movie clip.  I'm sorry the links are not working.


Grace Grits and Gardening said...

This reminded me of a gift my husband and I received years ago when we were first married. A huge box arrived - almost as big as an appliance box. Shipped Fed Ex, must have cost a fortune. Inside, a giant tumbleweed from one of his crazy fraternity brothers who was working in West Texas! haha.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing. I guess your husband's fraternity brother was eiher romantically commenting on your marriage as "Pledging their love to the ground" or making his personal commitment to staying "lonely but free." Funny!

The Blog Fodder said...

I never knew that the tumbleweed was not a specific plant. Russian thistle I know well but never saw them get very big. Though my Dad claimed that in the 30s, they grew tall enough to hang an Irishman (his ethnicity). Great post.

The Blog Fodder said...

Lyn, Roy Rogers has no D in his name. also the link to the Sons of the Pioneers didn't copy right. the j appears as an i and when I clicked it it said no such video.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Allen, thank you for letting me know that the links are not working. I hope people access the videoes through Google. They're great--and I've been humming Tumbling Tumbleweeds for days now since writing this blog!