I’ve been fascinated by frost flowers since I was a kid and have seen them in the wild in Missouri and Kentucky. On a couple of recent frosty mornings I was thrilled to find them in our backyard.test
Frost “flowers” are really ice crystals which occur only on certain plants and under special conditions when the air temperature is below freezing and the ground is not frozen.
Cold temperatures cause moisture in the plants’ thick roots to expand and push up through the stem. As the water reaches the cold air, it freezes into fantastic, beautiful, fragile shapes. Read more on Wikipedia.
Frost flowers occur on very specific plants, including White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) also called Frostweed, Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) and Yellow Ironweed (Actinomeris alternifolia). These are weedy plants that often grow in open fields and can grow 8-10 ft. tall, and are not what I want in our backyard.
Frost flowers also occur on Dittany (Cunila origanoides). This is a delicate-looking plant, 12-16″ tall, with small lavender flowers in September or October. It prefers sun or medium shade and dry-to-average soil. According to the plant label, it does not spread and is long-lived, and it works well in a garden.
One must get out early to see these exquisite ice crystals. Even in the shade they usually disappear by 9 or 10 a.m. Our daughter calls them fairies’ ice sculptures. I see them as one more example of nature’s mysterious and beautiful works of art.
If you want to know more, Kentuckian Chris Korrow has created an informative and artful frost flower DVD that has been shown on Kentucky Education Television and is available on his website.
The frost flowers in these photographs were on two Dittany plants in our backyard. I planted them in hopes of having frost flowers close at hand and am glad I did. I’ll be watching them closely on frosty mornings, and I’ll be planting more Dittany in the backyard next spring.
I’ve read that only one person in a thousand has ever seen frost flowers or even knows they exist. I think they are amazing and wish more folks knew about them. Please share this post with anyone you think might be interested. Note the new links at the top of each post to share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Have you seen frost flowers? If so, where and when?