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Invasive monster monsters come to bury us



Air Force cleared the bubbles in Clovis, New Mexico, in 2014.


US Air Force / Senior aviator Erika Engble

Tumbleweeds may look soft and fluffy from a distance, but hit one with your car and quickly learn how woody, spiky and mean they really are. Just look at what happened when Victorville, California was buried under the bubbles in 2018.

A new kind of giant bubble is now flourishing in the US. Salsola ryanii is a hybrid that grows larger than its parent plants. It can reach 6 feet (2 meters) high, so it's not like those cute little moving bubbles you see in western movies.

University of California Riverside researchers looked at why this monstrous plant thrived and published a study in the journal AoB Plants.

Salsola ryannii is created by a cross of two invasive bubble species. He has additional sets of chromosomes of his parents, a condition known as "polyploidy". Polyploidy is common in plants. In comparison, almost all people have only one set of chromosomes from each parent.

Research suggests that size and success are due to polyploidy. As a hybrid, he is more energetic than his parents.

UC Riverside genetics professor and study co-author Norman Elstrand described Salsoa ryanni as "nasty" in a statement last week.

The plant found in California may want to expand its territory.

"This is the only thing that is still green in late summer," said study co-author Shana Wells. "They can be well positioned to take advantage of summer rains if climate change makes these more widespread."

It's only a matter of time before the Syfy channel makes a movie called Tumbleweednado.


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