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Tumbleweed invading beach dunes

When I hear the word tumbleweed, an image of a dry brittle plant tumbling across a barren road of an arid desert scene pops into my head. Not the image of a prickly plant patching across the beaches of Florida. The tumbleweed iconic to the West is referred to as prickly Russian thistle (Salsola kali). Our local beaches have a closely related subspecies of Russian thistle Salsola kali subspecies pontica. It is a non-native invasive plant that disturbs shorebird and sea turtle nesting habitat by taking over areas that are typically barren.

A Ft. Clinch State Park Ranger along with community volunteers removed 4-5 large trailer loads of Russian Thistle along a 400′ stretch of beach.

In Northeast Florida, Russian thistle has been identified in patches along the fore dunes of Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and Talbot islands. With no prior data collection, local agencies are determining just how prevalent it is among our dunes. If you’re walking along the beach look for oval to round shaped plants with sharp-pointed tips. When the weather becomes drier, Russian thistle will become brittle and break off, blowing across our beaches like a scene out of a wild West movie.

How to help

If  you’ve spotted Russian thistle on the beach, take GPS points using your phone. Then take a few photos of the whole plant and a few close up photos of the leaves. Email your photos to,

Close up of Russian thistle leaves.

If you’re interested in helping remove Russian thistle attend the next work day.

Tuesday August 27 at 9 AM. Meet at Beach Access 35S at the end of Suwanee Ave. Please bring gloves, a bucket, water, hat and wear a long sleeve shirt because the thistle is very prickly. Email activity coordinator Bev at if you plan to join.

Another date will be set to remove Russian thistle from Peter’s Point South. If you’d like to get involved please fill out this form and an email will be sent on the future date.

A patch of Russian thistle growing along the beach at Ft. Clinch State Park before it was removed by volunteers during the workday.

A clean beach after community volunteers removed patches of Russian Thistle at Ft. Clinch State Park.


Click here for more photos of Russian thistle.

Russian Thistle Fact Sheet