05 October 2014

Tumbling Tumbleweeds' Troubling Transformations in Carbon Canyon

This view off Carbon Canyon Road just west of the S-curve in Chino Hills shows a growing carpet of Russian thistle, better known as tumbleweed, filling the hillside.  A little late Spring rain amidst an ongoing serious drought has brought a proliferation of the highly flammable invasives to our area.
In recent weeks, there has been a significant transformation in the landscape of Carbon Canyon.  From a distance, deceptive green carpets covering bare, brown hills looks like a good thing, but a closer inspection finds something entirely different.

What's been popping up on the Canyon's hillsides and along Carbon Canyon Road are tumbleweeds.  A 24 September article in the Los Angeles Times noted that tumbleweeds, spurred on by a prolonged drought and some late spring rains, have taken over areas usually inhabited by invasives like the wild mustard we typically see covering our local hills.

For this blogger, it's been many years since there has been a proliferation of tumbleweeds as is occurring now.  At the time, the connection to drought was not there, but in the later 1970s, probably 1977 or so, drought drove the tumbleweed population sky-high and it is a vivid memory seeing the uprooted plants rolling down the streets of a Huntington Beach neighborhood.  Several years later, maybe in 1983, a similar phenomenon was observed in the Placentia/Yorba Linda area.

Soon enough, a repeat of those distant recollections will be here.  As the article related, tumbleweeds break off during the autumn and get into drains, ravines, fences, the yards of houses and in other areas.  More concerning:  the itinerant plants become highly flammable and pose a major fire hazard.  In our region, dry as a bone and with vegetation already crispy and containing high fuel content, this added threat makes for a troublesome possibility.

There is a little history in the article, as well.  Known as Russian thistle, the tumbleweed first made its appearance in the United States in the 1870s courtesy of the importation of flax seeds and spread widely and wildly.  Naturally, they flourish during dry spells and are kept in check when rainfall is significant.

Interestingly, there are efforts underway to eradicate the plant by introducing fungi from, of course, Russia. Experiments conducted by the federal Department of Agriculture have been successful enough that the agency is seeking approval from the agency's Animal and Plant Inspection Service to begin treatment.

Meantime, public and private property owners are left with trying to remove existing plants and keep the additional fire hazard down.

To see the Los Angeles Times article in full, click here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post -- I have noticed all that "new" green stuff growing on the hills and wondered ... now I know! Thanks again!

prs said...

Hi anonymous, thanks for the comment. After noticing the sudden green color, as well, and then seeing the article in the LA Times, it brought back memories of the 1970s and concern about what could happen if a fire breaks out in the canyon. Let's hope this doesn't take place!