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A car-sized tumbleweed made quite a scene on a California highway

A tumbleweed roughly the size of a car was captured on video this week and posted on X, where commenters compared it to a giant hairball, belly lint gone wild, and the critters from a 1986 sci-fi horror movie.
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A tumbleweed roughly the size of a car was captured on video this week and posted on X, where commenters compared it to a giant hairball, belly lint gone wild, and the critters from a 1986 sci-fi horror movie.

A giant tumbleweed roughly the size of a Volkswagen beetle was spotted hurtling its way down a four-lane road in California this week.

The jaunty brown bundle of brush was captured on video and posted on Tuesday on X, formerly known as Twitter, where it has gathered a number of fans who have compared it to a giant hairball, belly lint gone wild, and the critters from the eponymously named 1986 sci-fi horror movie.

The poster of the video offered no information about the bouncing plant carcass, other than to say that it was "the mother of all tumbleweeds." But that got us thinking. Not just about cowboys and classic Western movies, but about where tumbleweeds come from and their propensity for taking over roads and neighborhoods.

First off, tumbleweeds aren't one specific species of plant. They fall under an umbrella of noxious weeds that when dry, break off at the root, setting off on a seed-spreading expedition.

One of the most common and most problematic for crops is the Russian thistle, or Kali tragus. It is believed to have hitched a ride from Ukraine to South Dakota in a shipment of flaxseed back in the 1870s, and it has plagued the country's dry, arid lands ever since.

In 2020, a swarm of tumbleweeds took over a stretch of Washington state highway that piled up to 30 feet high in some places. Cars and trucks were trapped for hours. Authorities dubbed it Tumblegeddon.

A couple of years later, about 100 homes in Victorville, California, were seemingly swallowed up by thousands of prickly tumbleweeds that were strewn about by 50 mph winds.

"It looked like a war of tumbleweeds, like we were being invaded," Victorville resident Bryan Bagwell, 42, told NPR at the time.

In a similar incident in 2014, a tumbleweed explosion knocked down fences, blocked highways and trapped people inside their homes in Colorado.

Experts say there is more tumbleweed tumult in our futures. A 2019 study from the University of California, Riverside, found that a new species of gigantic tumbleweeds — Salsola ryanii — that can grow up to 6 feet tall, grows more vigorously than others. They also say it's likely to expand its territory as a result of climate change.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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