Don’t be a Tumbleweed

History of the “American” Tumbleweed

A yellow tumbleweed.The tumbleweed isn’t native to the American southwest; instead, it’s a foreign invader. There are a few different species, but the first tumbleweeds showed up in Scotland, South Dakota shortly after the Civil War ended.

The earliest tumbleweeds were actually Russian Thistles. The invasion happened very quietly. A seed or two apparently came over in a shipment of Russian flax. Thus the tumbleweed’s conquest of America began.

The Life-Cycle of a Tumbleweed

Tumbleweeds are very unusual plants. They live only one year, germinating in the spring or early summer.

Here’s some facts about the life-cycle:

  • Tumbleweed seeds need disrupted soil to grow, either a tilled field or ground broken up by the hoof prints of cattle or by machinery.
  • A meadow or any place where other plants are established blocks the seeds from the soil.
  • They often grow in poor soil under dry conditions.
  • The plant germinates in the spring and then flowers in the late summer. At least one species looks like innocent tuffs of grass when it first appears.
  • Young plants can be weeded, or killed with herbicides, but unfortunately other tumbleweeds sprout up in the surrounding uncultivated areas and in the desert.
  • The aging plant dies, usually after the first frost.
  • Broken off stems of tumbleweed.The dead parent plant then dries out and tangles into a prickly ball. People handling dead tumbleweeds need to wear gloves, because the leaves wither and change into tiny spines.
  • At some point, the dead tumbleweed breaks off at the stem and begins to tumble.
  • As it tumbles, each tumbleweed sheds thousands of seeds across the landscape.
  • Tumbleweeds can travel for several miles, wherever the wind drives them. Sometimes the dead tumbleweeds clump up in such large numbers that people are trapped inside their homes. (Please see the amazing video under “Resources.”)
Why People Hate Tumbleweeds

Tumbleweeds are pure weeds. It’s hard to say anything good about them. Like mosquitoes, they’re aggravating and sometimes dangerous. They produce no fruit and out-compete other plant species for resources, like water. The dried stems and leaves can be used for kindling, but if a wildfire breaks out, a flaming tumbleweed will spread the fire much faster. These plants are very hard to get rid of. If a town succeeds, a fresh wind can blow other tumbleweeds in from miles away, each of them flinging down thousands of new seeds.

Spiritual Insight

So why am I writing about tumbleweeds? Well, several weeks ago, I came across these verses in the Message Bible.

5-6 God’s Message:

“Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans,

Who thinks he can make it on muscle alone

and sets God aside as dead weight.

He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie,
    out of touch with the good earth.
He lives rootless and aimless
    in a land where nothing grows.

(Jeremiah 17:5-6 MSG)

Frankly, these verses scare me, because it’s a fault American Christians—and Christian writers easily slip into.  We focus on the task that needs to be accomplished next and try to reach more people. But we fail to spend time with the One who called us.

Excuse me…

Okay, I’m back. I had to go off and worship the Lord for several minutes, because I got too busy today and didn’t spend any time with Him.

Beas River in the Himalayas.There’s just something sad about neglecting my own advice.

I might as well confess right now that my most passionate posts are often on the topics I’m being convicted about by the Holy Spirit. So if anyone ever wants to put me on a pedestal, I’ll lend you my sledgehammer. It will save us both time.

As Christians, we are meant to be supernatural sources of living water in this world. In Jeremiah 2:13, Yahweh refers to Himself as “the spring of living water.”

 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Yet in John 7, Jesus states living water will flow out from believers and the next verse makes it clear that the living water He’s talking about is the Holy Spirit,

A forest river flowing over rocks.38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39 NIV)

We can do many compassionate acts in this world. To everyone else we’ll appear as “good people.” But eternal fruit happens only when the Holy Spirit is working in us and through us.

Not the smallest act is wasted when we do it in obedience to Jesus’ leading. Our Master has a divine plan and we can be part of it.

It’s our choice: we can be “spiritual tumbleweeds,” wandering aimlessly, ignoring our source of life-giving water, rootless and blown off course by every wayward wind.

Or we can be streams of life-giving water, by spending time with Jesus and letting Him fill us to overflowing.

I want to be used by God to change the world and bear eternal fruit—-don’t you?

The stems image by Stefan Lefnaer and the tumbleweed by EriKolaborator. were both downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.  The two stream images came from

Video of a Colorado subdivision overwhelmed by hundreds of tumbleweeds—unbelievable! (Click here.)
Removing and destroying adult tumbleweeds. (Click here)
The one virtue a tumbleweed has is that it can remove toxic chemicals from the soil. (Click here.)
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