These stories were first published in the Chandler Insider feature of the Nov. 4, 2016, issue of the Santan Sun News.
Tumbleweed Tree stands tall as Chandler’s seasonal centerpiece
The holidays are almost here! Let’s get ready to celebrate Chandler’s unique and world famous … cotton boll wreaths!
You’ve never heard about the amazing cotton boll Christmas wreaths that decorated the downtown square and were the talk of the town in December 1957?
Well, according to the story, a committee was formed in 1957 to develop ideas for new decorations for display in the downtown plaza and on 80 light poles along Arizona Avenue. Several different decorations were constructed by residents, including four-foot-wide wreaths made from cotton bolls and painted silver, and which would be mounted on the light poles. The new wreaths were the talk of the town, and the Chandler Arizonan newspaper accounts gushed over the uniqueness and beauty that the wreaths brought to downtown.
So, if these wreaths were so great, how come we don’t still have silver cotton boll wreaths decorating downtown Chandler every holiday season?
It’s because that same year, with much less fanfare, the town’s people also were inspired to build another unique decoration in the downtown plaza – a Christmas tree made out of tumbleweeds.
At first, the Tumbleweed Tree seemed like an afterthought and gained little attention in the newspaper. Construction updates were non-existent, and mere mention of the tree was scarce. It was not until the Christmas edition of the paper was printed that a photo of the tree finally appeared. A community sing was held surrounding the tree, but the advertisement for the event failed to mention the unique aspect that the tree was not pine, but rather tumbleweed.
Within a few years, sentiment had shifted and the people realized that it was the annual Tumbleweed Tree that best served as the seasonal centerpoint for the community. By 1959, the Arizonan newspaper was boasting about the “great Tumbleweed Tree,” and the excitement over the cotton boll wreaths had dissipated. The Arizonan even suggested that readers send photos and postcards of the tree to friends and relatives around the country to boast about its uniqueness.
Chandler’s Tumbleweed Tree may have been overshadowed by a bunch of wreath decorations initially, but every year since, the icon has grown in stature. It now holds a secure place in our history and our hearts as the community’s oldest, most unique and beloved holiday tradition. The addition of the annual Parade of Lights in 1990 expanded the festivities into a holiday extravaganza that brings thousands of residents and visitors to downtown Chandler each year.
Chandler Parks staff will begin constructing the 60th Tumbleweed Tree this week in preparation for the lighting ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3. The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m., with the Parade of Lights at 7 p.m., followed immediately by Mayor Jay Tibshraeny and members of the City Council flipping the switch to light thousands of lights on the biggest, brightest and best Tumbleweed Tree ever.
The Tumbleweed Tree symbolizes what is best about the City of Chandler. It was created out of hardship when the people of Chandler were inspired to innovate and work together to design and build new decorations that would reflect the resourcefulness and uniqueness of its residents. Every year since, the people join with family, friends and neighbors around the Tumbleweed Tree to celebrate Christmas and the holidays, together as one.
Details for this article and several photos were provided by the Chandler Museum. More information and images of the Tumbleweed Tree are available online at chandlerpedia.org.
Chandler Parks crew relishes opportunity to collect tumbleweeds, construct iconic tree for the community to enjoy
Mike Quihuis joined the Chandler Parks Division 27 years ago and worked on his first Tumbleweed Tree construction crew in 1990. This year, as the City’s Park Maintenance Supervisor, he is in charge of the 10-member crew that has already begun to construct the renowned Christmas tree in Dr. A.J. Chandler Park. The job takes on extra significance this year because it will be the City’s 60th Tumbleweed Tree, and Quihuis says his crew is excited and up to the task.
“Earlier this year, we started refurbishing the decorations that will go next to the tree, like Santa’s House and two large candles. Then, we started collecting more than a thousand tumbleweeds in early October,” Quihuis said. “This week, we raised the center pole, attached the wire frame and started securing the tumbleweeds in place. Once the tumbleweeds are hung, we shape it, paint it, toss on the glitter, and wrap it in lights. The last thing we do is top it with a star. Then, like everyone else, we wait for the parade and the tree lighting.”
The 60th Tumbleweed Tree will be lit on Dec. 3, at the conclusion of a festive evening that will include entertainment, arts and crafts, activities for kids and the bright and cheerful Parade of Lights. The event begins at 4:30 p.m., with the Parade starting at 7 p.m., and followed by the official tree lighting ceremony presided over by Mayor Jay Tibshraeny and the members of the City Council. More than 12,000 people are expected to fill the streets of downtown Chandler that night.
Quihuis said every member of the Parks Division and Recreation Division knows how special this holiday celebration is to the community, especially the children. “Chandler is the only place you can find a tree like this. It’s our unique tradition, and something that we can share with others during the holidays,” he said. “We’re all happy to be a part of it.”
This year’s Tumbleweed Tree will sparkle and shine like a diamond thanks to more glitter, silver garland on the giant candles and a commemorative star topping the tree. Santa’s House also has been spiffed up for the holidays. Free photos with Santa will be available on Dec. 3 starting at 4:30 p.m., on Dec. 8 from 5-7 p.m., on Dec. 10 from noon to 5 p.m., and on Dec. 17 from noon to 5 p.m.
The Tumbleweed Tree will be on display from Dec. 3 through the first week in January. Everyone is welcome to visit and take family photos by the tree. Please share your photos on social media and use the #tumbleweedtree hashtag.
How is it done?
For the 60th Tumbleweed Tree, the Park crews started collecting tumbleweeds in early October. Nearly 1,000 tumbling tumbleweeds were collected and 600-800 will be used to adorn a wire frame connected to a metal center pole. Then, the tumbleweeds will be shaped then sprayed with 50 gallons of flame retardant and 45 gallons of gloss white paint. While the paint is wet, the crew will dust the tumbleweeds with 70 pounds of glitter. Next, the tree is adorned with approximately 1,200 holiday lights that give it a spectacular look, day or night. After the star is placed on top, the Tumbleweed Tree will be 35 feet tall.
What are tumbleweeds?
Salsola tragus, or Russian thistle, has become a symbol of the West.
In the 1890s, the Russian thistle invaded the West, driving farmers from their homes. Botanist Lyster Hoxie Dewey investigated where the seeds came from and discovered they arrived in contaminated flaxseed from Russia that was planted on a farm in South Dakota. Then it spread like … weeds!
In the winter, the plant dies and becomes brittle and thorny. Gusts of wind then break the plant off its stem. The tumbleweeds roll as far as they can go before piling up against fences, homes and schools. Some of the plants can be as large as Smart cars! While a Russian thistle is tumbling, the plant drops seeds and spreads them along its path. There are 250,000 seeds in each tumbleweed! Today, Russian thistle grows in every U.S. state except Alaska.
The Weed That Won the West, by George Johnson, National Geographic, December 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/tumbleweeds/johnson-text
USDA Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SALSO