Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Frostweed revisited

with 24 comments

In the posting for November 29 you learned that Verbesina virginica is called frostweed because of the thin sheets of ice that the plant extrudes through the base of its stem when the temperature falls to freezing. Eight mornings later, after the overnight temperature in Austin had dropped into the high 20s, I went back out to Great Hills Park to see how the frostweed plants there were doing. I found only a few with ice formations on the north side of Floral Park Dr., but a bunch on the south side, where I ended up spending most of my time. Because the frostweed phenomenon occurs at the base of the plant’s stem, spending my time meant kneeling, sitting, hunching over or lying down in order to be low enough to aim my camera horizontally at the mostly upright ice formations.

I selected today’s photograph of frostweed’s strange ice phenomenon because it differs in several ways from the last one: today’s is vertical, it shows much more of the plant’s split stalk, and—by virtue of being the last picture I took—it shows some of the sunlight that had begun falling on the ground and that meant the ice formations would soon begin to flake apart and melt.

To see the many places in the southeastern third of the United States where Verbesina virginica grows, you can consult the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2011 at 4:53 AM

24 Responses

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  1. Beautiful image! This is an amazing plant! Wish we had them here in Canada; guess I’ll have to visit your part of the world to see it for myself. Cheers!


    December 9, 2011 at 12:25 PM

  2. Spectacular photograph, and I love learning about this too. Thanks so much!

    Susan Scheid

    December 9, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    • Thanks, Susan. In New York you have plenty of frost but in Austin we have plenty of frostweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM

  3. You did it again, it’s captivating and then realize that the plant generates this effect, Sally

    Sally W. Donatello

    December 9, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    • And thank you again, Sally. People in cold climates are used to ice that comes from precipitation or the freezing of bodies of water, but as you point out, here’s a rare ice formation generated by a plant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 5:47 PM

  4. Nature is amazing in its ingenuity and variety- what a unique plant!

    Watching Seasons

    December 9, 2011 at 10:18 PM

    • I’m with you on the amazing and unique. I’m grateful to have so many frostweed plants in Great Hills Park, just half a mile from where I live. When the cold hits, I know where to go looking for frostweed ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 10:25 PM

  5. Wow! That’s an amazing plant. I’ve never seen one before. Thanks for the insightful journal.


    December 9, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    • Frostweed is indeed an amazing plant, so I’m glad to have you make its acquaintance. And thanks for finding this an insightful journal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 10:43 PM

  6. That is just so wonderful – ribbons more beautiful than anything we can use to decorate a package.


    December 9, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    • We can fantasize about using frostweed ice ribbons to wrap packages, provided people are willing to go outdoors in the cold to get their gifts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 10:46 PM

  7. I can’t help but think a photographer could make quite a show of winter blossoms – frostweed, frost, snowflakes, ice skims forming on ponds and so on.

    And as long as I’m fantasizing – wouldn’t a time lapse of frostweed be something? All you’d need is the right equipment, lots of experience, tremendous patience, long underwear and a thermos of your favorite “something”!


    December 10, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    • A good phrase, winter blossoms. Here in Austin we don’t get much ice or snow for a photographer to play with, so my archive of ice and snow pictures is limited. (When we had an ice storm in January of 2007 I spent three hours one day and three the next freezing my extremities off to take advantage of the rare opportunity.) As for the time lapse of frostweed, just yesterday I was thinking that one day I should stay with the frostweed after temperatures rise so I can see the ways in which the ice melts. I don’t know if there’s a chance left this season—all the frostweed may now be spent—but there’s always something to look forward to next year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 10, 2011 at 10:57 AM

      • Don’t forget that “south” may be better than “north” when it comes to capturing frost in Texas. We had three frosts last week, because of higher moisture levels at the coast. College Station seems to be a boundary city for such events – they’ve been setting records for both high and low temperatures in the past month, and having heavy frosts.

        Of course frost is more fragile than, for example, flocks of geese. But it could still edge very close to you this year.


        December 11, 2011 at 8:35 AM

      • Frost, let me at you! The spirit is willing, even if the extremities are weak.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 11, 2011 at 9:08 AM

  8. Totally fascinating. And thanks for linking the USDA. Amazing plant.

    mobius faith

    December 11, 2011 at 12:16 PM

  9. That – is – amazing!
    I don’t think we have anything like that here in Northern Ireland.

    Samuel Millar

    December 13, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    • I’m not surprised that you don’t: the phenomenon is reported to be rare. I’m glad to introduce you to it from across the pond, as you put it. Let’s hope that on another visit over here you’ll be able to see it in person.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2011 at 4:21 PM

  10. It is so exciting and enjoyable to learn new things.. Amazing photograph hits me again. Thank you dear Steve, with my love, nia


    December 16, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    • I’d lived in Austin for almost a quarter of a century before I read about this phenomenon, and it took me a few more years to finally get to see it. It’s one of the wonders of the plant world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

  11. […] an antler that a deer has shed. So it was on December 7, when I had mostly finished photographing the cold and delicate white of frostweed ice, that I discovered lying on the ground this cold but durable white emblem of a male deer. You are […]

  12. […] If you take a good look at the picture above, you may notice that a tiny dark fly was taking sustenance from these white flowers. If you don’t know or recall how frostweed got its name, especially if you’re in a place where the summer heat feels oppressive, you’re welcome to take a cooling look back at the posts of November 29 and December 9. […]

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