This month’s frosty weather signals the start of the Centennial State’s unofficial tumbleweed season, when the withered plants begin to roll forth and multiply. To better understand the infamous tumbleweed, we outline its humble life cycle—going all the way back to its Russki roots.
Fall: The journey begins as the bushy plant dies, leaving behind a tangled mess of stems that, when the winds howl, are too weak to stay attached to the root. The bush breaks off near the ground and begins rolling, rolling, rolling—spreading some 250,000 seeds across the landscape.
Winter: Once dispersed, the seeds are protected from the snow and frigid weather by membranes that swaddle the embryos like sweaters. Tumbleweeds really love freshly tilled soils, which is why they enjoy burrowing in newly plotted neighborhoods.
Spring: The seeds germinate quickly—in as little as half a day—and don’t require much moisture. The roots grow to six feet deep and have no trouble digging through Denver’s dense clay soil, ensuring young tumbleweeds come to life brandishing soft leaves and green stems streaked with vibrant purple.
Summer: A mature plant can grow as large as a Car2Go, but more often it’s the size of a beach ball. And while they aren’t the most attractive garden additions, tumbleweeds are difficult to get rid of because they appear in large numbers and you have to weed early to purge them. Your best bet might be to just wait until the plant hits the road again.
Hostile Takeover: Although the plant is a stalwart of Western films, the tumbleweed is really a Russian infiltrator. It hitched a ride to the United States on a shipment of flax seed bound for South Dakota in 1873. It rolled into Colorado around 1892 and refuses to leave.
Hitting Home: In 2014, a pregnant woman in Fountain called the fire department for help. Her emergency? She needed assistance escaping her tumbleweed-entombed house.