Tag Archives: Frost flowers

Fall Frost Flowers

Fall is not my favorite time of year. Yes, the leaves are beautiful in their many hues. Yes, the cooler temperatures are a welcome respite from summer heat. Fall frost warns of cold moving in.
For me fall makes it hard to enjoy walking in the woods. I love the green plants and colorful flowers. I love warm air and not wearing layers of clothing plus a coat.

frosted gallium leaves

This gallium plant has its leaves edged in white frost lace.

Frost means dead plants, bare trees and slippery paths covered with dead leaves. Definitely a time to sit inside near the wood stove.
But frost has its attractions too. Killing frost has a special attraction.

leaf edged in frost

Each delicate lacy leaf lobe has its frost edging.

Hard frost freezes the dew on anything. In freezing the dew becomes little spikes edging leaves and leaf veins. They form delicate traceries on plant stalks.
Such frost pictures are common all winter. One isn’t.

seed head with ice spikes

Ice spikes fuzz out from the beggar lice in this Queen Anne’s Lace seed head.

The first real killing frost, the one down in the low to mid twenties, brings out the frost flowers.
The wild mint dittany is a reliable plant to make frost flowers. White crownbeard does too but grows along the road where the sun shines early in the day. Dittany is up in the woods.
Frost flowers last only a short time. The air must be cold. No hint of sun must touch these ice creations. No wind must go through to break their delicate ribbons.

frost flower

Dittany stems still have water in them when killing frost hits the Ozark hills. The water freezes splitting the stem allowing the ice to ooze out in an ice ribbon forming a frost flower.

The temperature was twenty-five degrees at dawn. Perfect.
Frost laid heavy on the ground so there was no wind. Perfect.
The sun was peaking over the hill but still hidden behind the trees. The world was light enough to see easily. Perfect.
The frost flowers were out in abundance on the hills.

Finding Frost Flowers

This is something I look forward to in spite of the very cold weather needed to create these frost flowers. After the first or second really hard frost, is the best time to go hunting frost flowers.
Thirty degree or even high twenties are not cold enough. Frost flowers need low twenties to be really nice.

frost flower
This year I missed going out after the first hard frost. I had to be somewhere else and couldn’t take the time to go out walking.
The weather got mild again. Frost was only a memory. Grass greened up. Then the wind began to blow.
All day the wind blew out of the west and north. It had a bite to it edged with ice. Frost the wind whispered.
The wind told the truth. Twenty-three degrees turns the ground hard and spreads white ice over everything. Frost flower weather.
Nothing happens in my house before the cats have breakfast. As soon as they were eating, I grabbed my camera to race out on the hill over the south pasture.

dittany in fall

Dittany is fairly reliable for frost flowers. It is easy to recognize even in the fall.

Not every plant will produce frost flowers. Dittany is reliable. Dittany grows in the woods on the hill over the south pasture.

frost flower
The first dittany had nothing. The second one had a frost flower. Almost every dittany plant had one or two.

frost flower
Many of the flowers were large. They seemed to spread out from more of the stem than in past years.
Milking must be reasonably on time. This is why I go out to the dittany to see the frost flowers.

frost flower
This year I missed the really spectacular frost flowers. My friend always goes up the road looking. Some years there are none.
Frost flowers ten inches tall were on some roadside weeds this year. At least that is what I was told as I finished milking.

frost flower
Grabbing my camera I raced up the road to see these beauties. Alas the sun beat me there. A touch of sun and a frost flower melts not to reappear until next fall when the first really hard frosts arrive.


Finding Frost Flowers

Killing frost is often thought of only for the damage it does. The gardens devastated. The fall leaves tumbling to the ground. But killing frost, at least the first big one, can bring a special treat for those who go out to look.

There have been several mornings in the mid twenties. These weren’t cold enough for these flowers. Then there came a thirteen degree morning. This was it.

I struggled into the coveralls and jacket, finished the milking and headed for the woods. There among the dry brown fallen leaves I found the frost flowers.

Frost flowers are not really flowers. They are sheets of ice erupting from plant stems in long ribbons that curl and cling to the stems.

frost flower

These ice ribbons are long.

Frost flowers are extremely delicate. They last only as long as the temperature stays below freezing and the sun doesn’t hit them. Often they appear a single morning of a fall.

frost flower

Notice how the ice pushes out from the stem

Only a few plants produce frost flowers. A stem has to have plenty of water in it. Most stems have dried out. Dittany is fairly reliable for frost flowers.

frost flower

Dittany is a wild mint. It grows scattered in open woods. Lovely groups of tubular lavender flowers appear around August and last into the fall.

Here dittany prefers a west facing slope. It seems to prefer drier areas of the hills. It likes growing near oaks and hickories.

frost flower

The ice ribbon varies in thickness so each ribbon is banded.

Dittany will grow in flower gardens as I know someone who had a plant appear one year. She enjoys the lovely plant.

This is a lovely plant. It can reach a foot high with numerous branches. All the branches are thin and wiry. Light green opposite leaves are wide and round at the base tapering to a point in an inch. Like many mints, the plant has a spicy pleasant odor.

In the fall when other plants are busy putting their moisture reserves down into their roots or are dying leaving their stems to dry out, dittany keeps trying to grow with juicy stems. A perfect recipe for frost flowers.

frost flower

Wooded slopes don’t seem to get as cold as the pastures so those killing frosts don’t do much damage there. When the temperature drops to the teens, the slopes freeze.

Water expands when it freezes. The water in those juicy stems starts to freeze and splits the stems. Ice pushes its way out in ribbons of varying width.

frost flower

Walking over the hills in search of frost flowers, I scan the area for the dittany plants. As I near a plant I peer down to the stem base often hidden under dry leaves for a gleam of white.

Once a frost flower is spotted, I remove the dry leaves carefully. Hitting the flower will shatter it. The ice is rarely attached to the overlying leaves.

frost flower

Taking pictures of frost flowers can be challenging. Ice is very reflective and will glare. I underexpose and try to keep the frost flowers in the shade.

These delicate treats of fall may appear once more on another frosty morning. There won’t be as many, if they do appear.

frost flower

A touch of sun and frost flowers begin to disappear.

For those who miss them this year, take some time to look for dittany late next summer. Then you will know where to go look for frost flowers when that first really cold fall morning arrives.