Frost Flowers, a Winter Treat

Fantastical one-of-a-kind frost flower.
Early winter brings out a rare treat that many people don't get to see. The fragile, icy formations only last a few hours, from before daylight until the sunlight reaches them. They melt within seconds of the sun's warmth touching them. (Click on any photo to enlarge it for better viewing).
Dozens of frost flowers scattered across a patch of ground.
It takes particular conditions for frost flowers to form. The soil must still be warm, at least above freezing, and the night time temperatures must rapidly drop below freezing.

There are several kinds of plants that frost flowers form on, all of them having fibrous or hollow stems. One such plant is carpenter weed, also sometimes known as square weed. You can sometimes  find them forming at the base of yarrow (Achillea sp.), our native dittany (Cunila origanoides), and a few others.
The "frost" looks like spun glass, or feathers.
The process is simple - during the night as the temperature drops rapidly and begins to freeze at the top of the soil, it forces still-warm moisture from the ground upward into the plant stems. As the temperature continues to drop, the moisture is forced out the sides of the dead plant stem and the moisture freezes.
I see the frost flowers in early morning when I take my morning walk in the woods. Sometimes if the frost flowers are on a plant such as dittany, which has an oregano flavor, I stop to let a frost flower dissolve on my tongue. The same plants will have frost flowers for several days until the moisture is wicked away or the temperature changes. For a few days, though, the magical frost flowers appear in the woods and along country roads.

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1 comment:

sharon said...

never seen this....tremendous