A New Species of Six-Foot Tall Tumbleweeds Could Invade Your Town

Tuesday, 03 September 2019 - 10:38AM
Earth
Tuesday, 03 September 2019 - 10:38AM
A New Species of Six-Foot Tall Tumbleweeds Could Invade Your Town
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USAF photo/Senior Airman Ericka Engblom
Perhaps it's due to an excess of monster movies in my formative years, but sometimes I like to look out across the city skyline as it shimmers on the East River and imagine the shadow of a massive extraterrestrial craft suddenly blotting out the summer sky and the ensuing invasion by aliens who, disgusted by our stewardship of Earth, arrive to evict us and return our species to the long-ruined planet of Zil, whose black waters support only the grimmest forms of ancient life. 


Suffice it to say, I was morbidly intrigued when I saw that a new species of giant tumbleweed with the capacity to bury a town has been discovered. According to researchers from U.C. Riverside, Salsola ryanii is a hybrid tumbleweed with doubled pairs of chromosomes, allowing it to grow much more vigorously than either of its parents, a condition known as polyploidy. As a result, Salsola ryanii can reach heights of up to six feet, which, as an invasive species found in 48 states, presents certain problems. Just ask the residents of Victorville, California, whose roads, homes, and backyards were buried by the stubborn plants last year.




To complicate matters, the tumblebeasts may very well thrive on climate change. "It's one of the only things that's still green in late summer," said researcher Shana Welles in an interview with U.C. Riverside News. "They may be well positioned to take advantage of summer rains if climate changes make those more prevalent."


It's a classic horror trope, complete with thorny tendrils: humans disturb or upset certain balances in nature and reap a whirlwind of unintended consequences. In movies, we'd be left sadder and wiser. In reality, we may just be left buried.
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