Troublesome New Tumbleweed On The Scene

A new species of tumbleweed is more vigorous and invasive than ones we've seen in the past. Its range could spread throughout the Mountain West. 

Its name is Salsola ryanii.  It’s the hybrid child of two other tumbleweed species.

Ryanii was discovered in the early 2000s in a few spots in California, but recent research from UC Riverside shows its spread and could reach the Mountain West. 

Shana Welles, a plant biologist who co-authored the study, said “the fact that it’s rapidly expanding its range and is more vigorous than its progenitor species, leads us to believe that it has potential to continue to expand its range and be invasive.”

Salsola ryanii is not only more vigorous than either of its parent species, it also grows larger.

Salsola ryanii on the ground
Credit Shana Welles
Salsola ryanii on the ground

Tumbleweeds also are known to roll into roadways, said Welles, “and obviously the larger they are the bigger potential problems there are.”

Welles said one of the reasons for the increased size, vigor, and adaptability of Salsola ryanii is that it is a hybrid species containing twice the number of chromosomes as each of its parent plants.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.