Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cold enough

with 44 comments

When I checked the outside temperature around 8 o’clock in the morning on November 17th, I saw that it was 34° F (1° C). Had the overnight temperature dipped below freezing, and had any frostweed (Verbesina virginica) done its magic ice trick? An easy way to find out was to check the frostweed plants in a portion of Great Hills Park just half a mile downhill from my home. When I got there I saw that most of them were untouched, but about a dozen stalks showed the characteristic curls of ice I was hoping to find, and that I then spent a good while photographing. Here’s one of them:

Frostweed Ice Scrolls 7165

If you’re unfamiliar with frostweed’s ice trick, one of the strangest and most beguiling phenomena in nature, you can check out the explanations and photographs in posts from this season over the last three years:




© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2014 at 5:33 AM

44 Responses

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  1. I took a look at the ones I photographed this summer and came up empty. I envy your seeing this.

    Steve Gingold

    November 20, 2014 at 5:49 AM

    • I’m sorry you didn’t get to see any “frost freaks” this time around, but there’s always next year to look forward to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 8:03 AM

  2. This phenomenon never ceases to delight. It was one of your previous posts, in fact, which sent me to the internet to learn about the phenomenon … I had never seen it before. Ain’t nature grand? Or, I suppose I should say, ‘Isn’t nature cool.’ D

    Pairodox Farm

    November 20, 2014 at 5:52 AM

    • I’ve enjoyed spreading the word each year, this being the fourth in a row. Till I got interested in native plants I hadn’t heard of this cool (or cold) phenomenon either.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 8:14 AM

  3. Certainly remarkable and enchanting at the same time. Went back to read more at your 2011 post.


    November 20, 2014 at 6:02 AM

    • Enchanting is a good description, Georgette. There’s still time for you to see it first-hand this cold season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 8:15 AM

  4. As soon as I read the title, I knew what it was. Lucky you – I tried, but the freeze line stayed to the north. No matter. I’ve got your photo of this favorite phenomenon to enjoy.


    November 20, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    • This is promising to be a cold winter, so you should have several more chances to see the phenomenon for yourself. Then you could write a post about it called “Coast to Success.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 8:19 AM

  5. Just how it feels in the Northeast—br-r-r-r-r-r.


    November 20, 2014 at 8:16 AM

  6. How cool! 😊


    November 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM

  7. That is about the neatest thing I’ve ever seen a plant do! I’ve heard about it but never seen it.


    November 20, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    • It is wonderful, isn’t it? In Illinois and Indiana, frostweed only makes it to the southernmost counties in those states. Even those southern parts may be too far north for there to be any frostweed left this year that hasn’t already done its ice trick. If you become aware of any frostweed plants not too far from you, maybe you can check them out next fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 1:33 PM

  8. Interesting photo. There is a cross at the top of the photo. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    November 20, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    • Thanks for pointing that out. At the time I took the picture I didn’t notice the cross, but as soon as I saw the image on my computer screen later, the cross jumped right out at me.

      I just went back and checked the set of photographs: the cross wasn’t in the previous picture of the same stalk 8 seconds earlier, nor in the following picture of the stalk 16 seconds later. You can add to the frostweed ice trick a particular trick of the light in this one frame.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 1:41 PM

  9. I have never seen such a phenomena, it is more than beautiful! Love, love the effect, somehow reminds me of sugar candy from an amusement park but is way too cooler!


    November 20, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    • It’s sugar candy for the eyes, and the delicately thin curls of ice are like phyllo pastry (but cold rather than warm).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 3:42 PM

  10. it seems way too early for weather like that, but then i think, ‘duh.. it’s november up there!’ i’m glad to live in a perpetual spring/summer climate!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 20, 2014 at 5:29 PM

    • November it is, and an unusually cool one in central Texas for the past 10 days. In some parts of the Northeast winter has already set in, e.g. more than 5 ft. of snow on top of buildings in Buffalo (NY). It’s easy to lose sight of that in a tropical country.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 5:51 PM

  11. Wow! I never heard of this. What a great photograph.


    November 20, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    • Even most of the people who live in areas where this plant grows are unaware of the phenomenon. I lived in Austin for 23 years before I learned about it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2014 at 7:14 PM

  12. Wow, very cool…like an abstract painting!

    Leah Givens

    November 21, 2014 at 2:55 AM

  13. […] in Great Hills Park (in fact only about a hundred feet from the place where, a month later, I took the frostweed ice trick picture you saw last time). Another thing I found during the October jaunt was a small white feather caught […]

  14. Wow! The US weather has been on the news here in the UK. This is quite beautiful 🙂 What I saw on the news was much more alarming!

    Sarah Longes - Mirador Design

    November 21, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    • These intricate ice formations at the base of frostweed plants do no one any harm, but the northeastern United States has been suffering from unusually heavy snowfalls, as you’ve heard. More than 7 feet of snow has accumulated on many roofs, causing some to collapse from the weight. Many people have been left without power in the frigid weather.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 21, 2014 at 8:22 AM

      • Yes, we just saw pictures of people being evacuated from care homes etc under 7 foot snow drifts! Very scary. The sudden changes in weather have been quite dramatic!

        Sarah Longes - Mirador Design

        November 21, 2014 at 8:38 AM

  15. […] it’s because frostweed, which you’ve recently seen here with a hover fly on it and doing its ice trick, is Verbesina virginica. To my untrained eyes the two species don’t look much alike, but […]

  16. I always look forward to your frostweed-on-ice photos. One of the few signs of cold weather coming on that I quite enjoy!

    Susan Scheid

    November 29, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    • I was thrilled to see this early display and get to photograph the phenomenon yet again. The temperature stayed cool for a while afterward, then hit 81° one afternoon, and managed to get to a breezy 72° today. I know you’d take any of those over what you’re experiencing in New York.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2014 at 5:01 PM

  17. This is fabulous, truly. It looks posed against the blue background. I still want to touch it! Great capture and find! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


    December 28, 2014 at 12:53 AM

    • You’re welcome. The sky was clear that morning, so for some of the (many) pictures I took, I managed to incorporate it as a background.

      You mention touching frostweed ice: it’s delicate, and the touch of a finger can easily cause it to fall apart.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2014 at 6:07 AM

      • I remember reading that on the post you shared before and thinking go figure I can’t touch it! Luckily I learned some years ago to keep my hands to myself and not touch everything. Doesn’t keep me from wanting to.

        It makes sense though that they are delicate and fragile as the process itself seems to be the same.


        December 28, 2014 at 1:54 PM

        • I think deft fingers and a delicate touch could still give you a feel for the ice, and even if it broke off you could briefly hold it in your hand.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 28, 2014 at 3:24 PM

          • I’d hate to destroy it, so beautiful to look at. 🙂


            January 2, 2015 at 2:45 PM

            • In Austin, even if we have an overnight freeze, the morning temperature in winter almost always rises above freezing as the morning progresses, and these ice formations are doomed to melt. Given that reality, someone here could handle one without worrying too much about ruining it, because that is its fate anyhow. From what I’ve read online, in colder climates the ice formations can last for several days.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 2, 2015 at 4:37 PM

              • One day, one day Steve I shall find one! I wonder if their texture and overall composition is different up here in colder temperatures…


                January 2, 2015 at 4:52 PM

                • That’s a good thing to wonder. Someone would have to visit both regions at the right time to make a comparison.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 2, 2015 at 11:27 PM

  18. […] so that’s what I ended up taking pictures of. The photograph I posted in November showed the ice against a blue sky, so I’ve chosen a different sort of view for today’s post; this one, unlike the last, […]

  19. […] The first picture of frostweed ice you saw this season was taken with a flash. The second was not, and in fact none of the photographs from that session included flash. On this third and last occasion I took every picture with my ring flash. When photographing frostweed ice I usually go for close and abstract images, and I almost always aim horizontally or even somewhat upward to avoid the clutter on the ground around the base of the stalks. It occurred to me, though, that for a change I should show you an in situ image of the phenomenon, so here it is, clutter and all. At least this picture has the virtue of including two “frost flowers,” and the ice is more horizontally expansive and ribbony than in the other pictures you’ve seen here recently. […]

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