Tumbleweed and Cheatgrass Invade Oregon in Mid-1800s

Date: 

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017

Author: 

Lynda Demsher

Episode: 

3 352

Two invaders crept into Oregon in the mid-1800s, playing never-ending havoc with the landscape.

One was tumbleweed, a movie-inspired symbol of the Old West, but the bane of anyone who lives in the desert regions of Eastern Oregon, such as Klamath and Lake Counties. The other was cheatgrass.

Tumbleweed first appeared after 1850 in contaminated flax seed in South Dakota.  It hitched a ride with pioneers heading West, finding a home in the drier regions they passed through. 

The weed grows into a spiny shrub that dries out and comes loose from its stem, tumbling its seeds out as it rolls along with the wind, clinging to fences and accumulating in ravines. 

Cheatgrass reached America from Europe in contaminated grain seed, straw packing, and ship ballast. Also discovered after 1850 near Denver, Col., it promptly invaded the Great Basin and western rangelands suffering from over-grazing and drought.  Livestock can’t graze on cheatgrass because of its sharp-barbed seeds. 

Both invasive weeds do contribute to the diets and habitat of game birds, such as chukar and quail as well as small mammals, but both also contribute to Western wildfires. 

Sources: Skinner, Mark. "Cheatgrass." United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, 1 Oct. 2008. United States Department of Agriculture, https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_brte.pdf. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017; Russian Thistle." Utah State University, USU, 26 Sept. 2006. The Great Basin and Invasive Weeds, https://www.usu.edu/weeds/plant_species/weedspecies/russianthis.html. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

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