Russian tumbleweed

Russian tumbleweed

Salsola tragus

Common Name:

Russian tumbleweed

Scientific Name:

Salsola tragus

Alternative common names:

Russiese rolbossie (Afrikaans), Russian tumbleweed (English), Russian cactus, Russian thistle.


Russian tumbleweed is an annual weed that begins life as a typical multiple branched bush, which then takes on a spherical form. Once the spherical form is achieved, the plant breaks at the soil line and becomes a tumbleweed, which is blown by the wind, spreading thousands of seeds. It is abundant in semi-desert regions and is a typical plant of salty soils where rainfall is scarce. The plant is a hazard when it tumbles across roads as it can surprise drivers and cause traffic accidents.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?


What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 1b.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Limpopo and Gauteng.

How does it spread?

Seeds are dispersed over large areas as it tumbles along in the wind.

Why is it a problem?

It reduces the yield and quality of numerous agricultural crops such as alfalfa and small grains. It depletes soil moisture and interferes with cultivation operations. It also acts as a shelter food for many insects, vertebrate pests as well as crop diseases such as curly top.

What does it look like?

Leaves: Leaves are alternate, upper opposite and stalkless. Blades are fleshy, long linear to thread-like, grooved at the base and spine-tipped.

Flowers: Regular, small flowers that are white or membranous perianth consisting of five segments.

Fruit/seeds: The fruit is a brown, cup-shaped, one-seeded achene. The sepals have a broad longitudinal appendage at the dorsal side.

Does the plant have any uses?

The shoots and tips of a young growing plant are edible and can be cooked like greens. They are also used as animal feed.

Leave a Reply