Cowboys and tumbleweeds

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Posted Mon, Apr 12, 2010

A cowboy walks out of a saloon for a showdown and the tumbleweed rolls between him and his opponent. 

There is only one question on everyone’s mind.

Why do cowboys attract tumbleweeds?

 Tumbleweeds are plants that were once anything from a flowered shrub to a thistle bush.

Once they have dried up, they disengage from their root and “tumble” across the plains dispersing their seeds as they roll.

They are not, however, indigenous to the United States.

Salsola kali, one of the many plants, can be traced back to nineteenth century South Dakota in a shipment of flaxseeds from Russia.

It is considered a noxious weed but has been useful on arid rangelands as forage for livestock.

It is edible, though there isn’t much taste once it reaches the point of being a tumbleweed. 

Some people have even found a business in harvesting tumbleweeds.

Most of their buyers are looking for the nostalgia that they brought in western films as a child.

 “My tumbleweed is hanging up in my archway,” said Vivian Boyer of Saylorsburg, Pa.  “I’m 72 years old and I grew up loving Western movies. Roy Rogers and Joel McCrea were my idols. I always wanted to go out West and see these tumbleweeds. Finally, I got my tumbleweed.”

The tumbleweed, native to Russia and parts of Europe, has become more symbolic in film than anything else.

It is an ideal representation of boredom, desolation, emptiness, and aimless wandering in film.

So rather than rolling across the screen to show any true depiction of the location, tumbleweeds are used to express more of a feeling and set a tone for the scene in the film.

In comedic films, it is used for irony or the mocking of a situation rather than the seriousness.           

You may find a scene where the tumbleweed is blowing across someone’s kitchen as they are standing off during an argument with someone.

Basically, if you can place crickets chirping in a film, you can place a tumbleweed.

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