Frost Flowers

Frost Flowers

frost flower photos by Bill Roussel

Neighbor Bill is a hunter and he’s outdoors in the early morning, so he sees frost flowers in the fall. Because I did not believe him, he took photos to prove that frost flowers really exist. He’s pulled my leg before.

I have always had the good sense NOT to be wondering around in the woods at the crack of dawn during deer season. But, Neighbor Bill is out there every year armed with a camera and a gun. Most years, he has better luck with the camera.

When he showed me his Frost flower photos, I headed to the Missouri department of Conservation (MDOC)
to find out about this beautiful natural phenomenon seen only by early risers.

These delicate ice flowers or frost flowers only occur when freezing weather happens before the ground is is frozen for the winter. Long thin cracks form along the stem of plants as the sap freezes and expands. The moisture is drawn through the cracks on the plant stems by capillary action and freezes when the sap oozes out into the air. As more sap is drawn from the stem, these thin layers of ice keep pushing out, forming thin “petals”. The thin frost flowers will shatter if touched and disappear as the sun rises.

The water can’t travel up the stems once the ground is frozen, so these beautiful works of nature are seen only in fall. Late blooming native Missouri wildflowers like yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica), are good candidates for frost flowers. White crownbeard is sometimes called frost beard.

Neighbor Bill is quite a hunter as well as an exellent photographer. He managed to photgraph the last “flowers” of the season while I sure not a bloom had survived last nights hard freeze.

Yellow ironweed, also called wingstem, is a wildflower attractive to birds and butterflies.
photo from Missouri Department of Natural Resources

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