A tumbleweed is a structural part of the above-ground anatomy of a number of species of plants, a diaspore that, once it is mature and dry, detaches from its root or stem, and rolls due to the force of the wind. In most such species, the tumbleweed is in effect the entire plant apart from the root system, but in other plants, a hollow fruit or inflorescence might detach instead. Tumbleweed species occur most commonly in steppe and arid ecosystems, where frequent wind and the open environment permit rolling without prohibitive obstruction.
Apart from its primary vascular system and roots, the tissues of the tumbleweed structure are dead; their death is functional because it is necessary for the structure to degrade gradually and fall apart so that its seeds or spores can escape during the tumbling, or germinate after the tumbleweed has come to rest in a wet location. In the latter case, many species of tumbleweed open mechanically, releasing their seeds as they swell when they absorb water.
The tumbleweed diaspore disperses seeds, but the tumbleweed strategy is not limited to the seed plants; some species of spore-bearing cryptogams—such as Selaginella—form tumbleweeds, and some fungi that resemble puffballs dry out, break free of their attachments and are similarly tumbled by the wind, dispersing spores as they go.