Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cold enough once again

with 61 comments

Frostweed Ice 1225

The outside thermometer yesterday morning read 37°F (3°C), and because a few nearby roofs were white I thought I’d make myself an honorary northerner for a change and try to photograph some frost. Instead, and to my surprise, I found once again that a couple of dozen frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in Great Hills Park had done their overnight ice trick, and 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, was taken in natural light rather than with a flash.

If you’re unfamiliar with this strange phenomenon, you can go back to a post from 2011 that explained it.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2014 at 5:16 AM

61 Responses

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  1. A very refreshing sight for me after a hot summer day in Christchurch.


    December 30, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    • New Zealand may be the land of the long white cloud, but Texas is the land of the long hot summer. Of course it’s the opposite of summer here now, and yesterday’s cold morning was appropriately wintery. That said, by afternoon the temperature had risen to the low 60s (around 17°C).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2014 at 7:11 AM

      • And 17C degrees is how our morning began.


        December 30, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        • We crossed paths (so to speak, and barely) two days ago, but won’t today, because the high here is predicted to be only about 5°C. The breeze and overcast sky make for a blustery morning (I know first-hand because I just put out the garbage).

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 31, 2014 at 7:58 AM

          • And by the way, it’s still 2014 at this end of the tin-can telephone but 2015 at your end. Relative to over here, you’re living in the future.

            Steve Schwartzman

            December 31, 2014 at 8:04 AM

  2. thanks for another view of the frostweed! brrrrrrrrrrrrr – your trips to capture the frost and ice remind me of my pre-dawn trips to the beach in hopes of finding a nesting sea turtle. it’s so rewarding when one hits the jackpot!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 30, 2014 at 6:30 AM

    • Now if I’d found a sea turtle alongside the ice at the base of the frostweed stalks, that would really have been a find. Readers of this comment who’d like to see one of Lisa’s posts about sea turtles can visit


      My only connection to animals yesterday was that when I first pulled over to park I saw some deer across the street at the edge of the woods, but when I put on a long lens and tried to get close enough for photographs, the deer kept moving away from me and made it impossible to get even a tentative picture. It was then that I noticed the frostweed ice, which I ended up spending almost an hour photographing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2014 at 7:38 AM

      • how great that the elusive deer led you to the ice on the frostweed!

        this morning i’ve been watching the shrimp farm workers trying to keep the cormorants and gulls from devouring the shrimp! nature always provides entertainment if we’ll slow down and watch!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        December 30, 2014 at 8:10 AM

        • Oh those dear deer, we might say.

          I’ve heard the advice to “stop and smell the roses,” but never before to “stop and watch people try to keep cormorants and gulls from devouring shrimp.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 30, 2014 at 8:19 AM

  3. Another image of that fascinating plant–nature always surprises.


    December 30, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    • This time it wasn’t only the phenomenon itself that was surprising, but its reoccurrence in my neighborhood when I wasn’t expecting it. Call that a good surprise.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2014 at 12:55 PM

  4. Looks like no flash was perfect! I love the detail you got in this. It’s like spun silk or sugar. These are so fascinating, I don’t think I can get enough of them. What a true wonder.


    December 30, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    • I’m crazy about this phenomenon too (or some might say just crazy), so even though I took a lot of pictures of frostweed ice last month, I couldn’t pass up the chance for more. For close to an hour yesterday morning I spent time kneeling and even lying on the cold ground in order to get low enough to photograph the ice. The advantage of flash in a mostly shaded situation like this one is that you can add lots of light and therefore stop down the lens for greater depth of field, but the disadvantage is that the resulting images can look garish. I used natural light, especially shafts of sunlight that intermittently came through the trees and reached the ground as the sun got higher, but I still struggled with shallow depth of field and couldn’t always get all the important details in focus. Nevertheless, I managed to get some good views.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      • Hey no need to stop taking pics of them now! I don’t think I’d ever get enough either, people would have to complain and even then I’d just apologize…TOO BAD SUCKERS! 😉

        I can easily see an hour spent trying to get this just right. I do understand what you’re saying about flash. Sometimes it’s so necessary and yet it can have a terrible effect on the real feel that you’re trying to get from your picture. Often times for me the flash takes what’s “natural” from the picture. It reminds me how they say in writing not to remind your reader that they’re “reading” some fictional character; flash can have that effect.

        Great job in the end though I think the lighting came out well.


        December 30, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        • I like the way you compared flash in photography to unnatural dialogue in fiction. Usually when I’ve photographed this phenomenon I’ve taken pictures both with and without flash, but yesterday I hadn’t expected frostweed ice so I didn’t have my ring flash with me (that’s what I used to take the picture you saw in November). I did have my regular flash, but I never even pulled it out; instead, I preferred to see what I could do with natural light, especially the rays of sunshine I mentioned that briefly lit up parts of the ice from time to time.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 30, 2014 at 2:27 PM

          • Happy New Year btw, I wish you many more successful pictures and days such as this! (Well not the cold part about the day.) 🙂


            January 2, 2015 at 2:15 PM

            • Thanks, and I wish the cold and gray weather would go away already. It’s predominated for weeks now.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 2, 2015 at 2:41 PM

              • Funny because we’ve had warmer than usual temps for weeks and now we’re in the cold again, bitter cold on the way but no snow.


                January 2, 2015 at 2:47 PM

  5. An interesting formation. All the best for the New Year. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    December 30, 2014 at 1:57 PM

  6. It is such an amazing plant and makes such an interesting photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 30, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    • That’s why I don’t get tired of it and look forward each November and December to the chance for another go-round with frostweed. I mostly do close and abstract photographs emphasizing the patterns in the ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2014 at 9:54 PM

  7. The roots look like my salvia plants after a cold night: http://anarette.com/2014/11/23/frozen/


    December 30, 2014 at 7:47 PM

  8. I always look forward to these … totally love ’em (as the kids would say). D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 31, 2014 at 5:28 AM

    • I mean just like sort of totally incredible, as the kids might also say, alas.

      And now it occurs to me that nature photographers who brave the cold form a coaterie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2014 at 5:43 AM

  9. As you say, “strange phenomenon”. It is quite amazing how it works. Good find.

    This morning dawned at 0˚F. I am not going out yet for any photos…just so you know.

    Jim in IA

    December 31, 2014 at 7:37 AM

    • That’s what you get for living in Iowa, and that’s why I chose central Texas over the New York I grew up in. Down here we’re sharing some of your cold, but tempered by latitude: my outdoor thermometer is saying 38°, one degree above the reading two days ago at this time when there was frostweed ice. I’ll have to check to see if it’s there again, though I’m not keen on spending more time in the cold.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2014 at 7:53 AM

      • 38˚ isn’t cold

        Last night at bedtime, the furnace had a cycle that was interrupted when the thermostat went into the night mode. It drops a couple of degrees. The furnace took longer than I expected to run again. I was glad to hear it kick in several minutes later.

        We do have a gas fireplace that will keep us from getting too cold if it comes to that. We lost power for a couple of days one winter due to ice. It was good to have some heat.

        Iowa is a good place to live for me. We have 4 distinct seasons. No extremes last very long. I like the variety.

        Jim in IA

        December 31, 2014 at 8:21 AM

        • I checked the frostweed about half an hour ago and saw no ice at all this time. I guess the plants spent themselves two days ago and had nothing left to give. Just as well, because if there had been ice I’d have been duty bound to go out into the cold again and take even more pictures.

          There are many people who, like you, find 38° not especially cold and who enjoy four distinct seasons. A variant of an old joke holds that Texas has only three: December, January, and summer. That’s more to my body’s liking.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 31, 2014 at 10:02 AM

  10. We’ve had a little frost this year, but I doubt if it’s been cold enough for frostweed.. That’s all right. I know what it looks like in real life, and now I’ve got even more photos to enjoy. The great thing about your photos is that they don’t melt as the day progresses!

    I really like the striations. I wonder how fast the ice is extruded? Have you ever seen it happen? I wonder if there are time-lapse videos of the process? I went searching a bit to see if I could find some, but I got stopped by a page devoted to frostweed and other forms of ice. It belongs to Dr. James Carter, Illinois State University, and it’s crammed full of even more interesting links. If you scroll down below the photos, there are selections from 19th century writings that really are fascinating — some as early as 1833. As I read, I kept being astounded by sentences like this: ” In 1988 D. W. Lawler published “A Bibliography of Needle Ice” in Cold Regions Science and Technology (15: 295-310). There are 267 items in his compilation going back to 1824. ” That’s as amazing as frostweed.


    December 31, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    • The photos don’t melt, and after one of my frostweed-ice outings a couple of years ago—two hours!—I felt like I was never going to thaw out either. Not for nothing did I move from the Northeast to Texas.

      I’ve never staked out a frostweed plant to watch it extrude ice, but I found a YouTube post that includes a time-lapse sequence showing the process (the sequence begins about 17 seconds into the presentation):

      I’ve visited Dr. James Carter’s page several times in recent winters, and I’ve been as impressed as you by the fact that people have been writing articles about the phenomenon for two centuries. Now you’ve got me wondering if any of the famous people from the Revolutionary period, many of whom were farmers and some of whom were scientists (Franklin and Jefferson come to mind), wrote about frostweed ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2014 at 3:40 PM

  11. Wow! Looks like spun sugar (or fairy floss as we call it here). Beautiful and delicate. Thanks!


    December 31, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    • You’re quite welcome. I showed this image off on my iPhone at a New Year’s get-together tonight to someone who has lived here for more than a decade but was unaware of the phenomenon. You’ve got your fairy floss, and this is frigid fairy floss.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2015 at 1:32 AM

  12. I have yet to see this…I believe I’ve said that before…so I am quite envious. I liked your shared video and it led me to this….imagine owning this property as these folks do.

    Steve Gingold

    January 1, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    • It’s interesting that even though the field has been mowed, the remaining stubble still produces ice ribbons. And yes, it would be great to have my own land with a supply of frostweed. At least I know where there are frostweed plants in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home.

      May 2015 be the year when you get to see this phenomenon for real, and photograph it, of course.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2015 at 9:17 AM

      • I am now informed that I made a faulty assumption that the path where I found several Frostweed plants this summer would be devoid of frosts as a result of them being mowed. I am not sure if it is now too cold, but I may revisit them this coming weekend and see.

        Steve Gingold

        January 1, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        • Good luck with your frostweed, which I’m reminded is Helianthemum canadense. That species doesn’t make it to Texas, and Verbesina virginica doesn’t make it to Massachusetts. but fortunately we each have at least one species that does the ice trick.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 1, 2015 at 10:01 AM

  13. Ooh, I love it 🙂 I wish we had this plant in the UK!!

    • I love it too, as you can tell. Near the end of the page at


      you’ll find a list of plants that have been known to produce ice formations. Perhaps you have one of those species near you in the UK.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2015 at 4:28 PM

      • Ooh, I shall look at that now!

      • There are a few Steve! I had no idea that Lantana or Hellebores did this. Many of the species listed are plants that are so often cut back before winter. Thanks for the list 🙂

        • You’re welcome, Sarah. The cutting back may not matter, because in the video above, even though the field had been mowed, the frostweed stubble still produced ice. I don’t know if that would be true for the other plants, or what the minimum length of a stalk would have to be to still produce ice. Maybe you can do some experimenting next autumn.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 2, 2015 at 4:59 PM

          • I think I will Steve! I shall ask around at RHS Wisley when I visit next to see if there are any plants or stalks in the woodland that may produce such an effect.

  14. Much better than doing an honorary northerner thing to bring us another fine example of frostweed doing its frostweed thing!

    Susan Scheid

    January 3, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    • Aye, I’ve done my southern photographer thing in bringing you this view of frostweed doing its frostweed thing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2015 at 12:52 PM

  15. Aye, matey! Seriously, I just think this is so cool. I think this shot is my favorite 🙂


    January 21, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    • I was happy with it too, and it’s a bit different from most of my other treatments of frostweed ice. Each season it gets harder to find new ways to see this, but I’ll keep on trying.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2015 at 11:07 AM

  16. […] Cold enough once again […]

  17. […] 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 […]

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