This post is going to be short, because I want to ask for YOUR input. Get ready to share!
If you have ever watched an old western movie or even a TV show set in the Old West, you are quite familiar with a nuisance known as the tumbleweed. Even I remarked about seeing them when I first moved to Colorado, saying, "I am in the West." :)
For the most part, tumbleweeds are shown in deserted or ghost towns, empty and dusty streets, or out on the prairie where no building impede their path. But, in reality, tumbleweeds are found everywhere people are, if the conditions are right.
These thick matted bushes sometimes stick to each other to resemble a giant Tumbleweed, and single Tumbleweeds six or eight feet in diameter, are not uncommon in the Southwest at times. They have been seen in many Western movies, but far from being "quaint" they can be both a nuisance and a fire hazard. Sage brush creates one of the more common kinds of tumbleweed.
Where I live in Colorado, when the wind blows across town, tumbleweeds inevitably follow. And it's amazing how those buggers can get stuck under your car, then dragged for miles. People avoid them like they do an animal or debris in the road. One of the most ironic facts is knowing the actual tumbleweed is a plant brought over from Russia.
Scientific descriptions with good photos!
History and Description: http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/tumbleweed.htm
Nice site and has bibliographical links.
Russian Thistle: Desert USA—the Ultimate Desert Resource has a very good history article, and the photo of blossoms to the right is theirs. It's beautiful. It's also larger than life. The blossoms are teensy, and when seen through a microscope, are nearly transparent at one point.
So...what trademarks or icons of the "west" come to mind when you think of a western setting? When you read a western story or novel, or when you watch a movie or TV show, what items are required in order for the western setting to be believable to you?