Curiosity Corner: Tumblin’ tumbleweeds

Tumblin’ tumbleweeds are a pain in the west. 

by Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics, Lander University

Here are a couple of “What is” questions.

Question: What is tumbleweed? (Asked by some curious dude.)
Reply: “Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds” (Sung by Sons of the Pioneers, if you’re old enough to remember).
 I guess we’ve all seen tumbleweed a tumblin’ in western movies, or maybe in person. There are several types of plants that tumble, but the most common and familiar is the Russian thistle. This tumbleweed has a round shape that makes for easy rolling in the wind. What is really going on is the sowing of seeds. The round plant snaps off from its roots in the fall when the leaves are dying and its seeds are ripe. It is estimated that a single tumbleweed plant can have a couple of thousand seeds.
 The seeds mature in flowers that are sort of wedged into the stems of the plant. As a result, they all don’t get dumped out on the first roll, but are spread far and wide as the “weed” tumbles along the prairie.
 The tumbleweed (Russian thistle) turned up in the West in the 1800s where it is well-adapted to the dry conditions. It may look harmless, but keep in mind that it is a thistle that is spiny and sharp, and it can cut horses and cowboys. Also, the tumbleweed can be a pain for farmers when it goes tumbling across their fields dropping seeds.
Question: What is quicksand?
Reply: Very simply, it is a mixture of sand and water. We can walk on ordinary wet sand like on the beach because a small amount of water acts as an adhesive for the sand grains. In loose sand, we sink in a bit, but the sand grains are in contact and distribute our weight. However, sand and adequate water gives a mixture (quicksand) that acts like a liquid and we tend to sink in it.
 Quicksand is usually found in rivers or streams where pools of water become filled with sand, or where groundwater comes up through a sand deposit.
 The movies make quicksand a culprit with people and animals sinking to their deaths in it. Quicksand is denser than water, and so more buoyant. If you panic when in quicksand, you may sink, similar to panicking in water. If you ever get into quicksand, don’t panic and try to float on your back – you won’t sink. If no one is around to help you out, keep calm, and do a few gentle body motions that will take you to the nearest edge. Sand swimming so to speak, but no freestyle.
C.P.S. (Curious Postscript):  The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.    -Bill Watterson
Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, Science Division, Lander University, Greenwood, SC, 29649, or for e-mail, http://www.curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. © JDW
See HERE for last week’s Curiosity Corner.

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, Science Division, Lander University, Greenwood, SC, 29649, or for e-mail, jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. © JDW

 

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About robertstevenson

Dr. Robert Stevenson is a Professor of Journalism and Director of Student Publications for the Department of Mass Communications and Theater at Lander University in Greenwood, SC. He received the Distinguished Faculty of the Year award for 2007-'08, and the Lander University Young Faculty Scholar Award in 2005-06. Stevenson also serves as chair of the Lander University American Democracy Project. First and Formost I am a dad of two wonderful boys.
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