Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The spy who came in from the cold

with 25 comments


Click for better quality and clarity.

The person in the title is me, who came in after two hours yesterday morning spent spying on the ice formations produced by frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in Great Hill Park. For the first time this season the temperature in Austin dipped below freezing overnight, as the forecast had predicted, so I felt duty-bound to bundle up and go out into the morning’s 29° in hopes that that would have been cold enough for frostweed to do its thing. It had been.

Unlike pictures of the phenomenon I’ve posted here in other years, this photograph emphasizes the way the ice first splits the outer part of a frostweed stalk. Notice that the tissue just inside the brown bark is still green.

If you’re new to frostweed’s ice trick and would like more of an explanation, along with images showing other aspects of the phenomenon, you can follow these links:







© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2016 at 5:01 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Oh, hooray for you! I was just certain you’d be out there, and this is a wonderful, creative view you brought us. The icy swirls and ribbons are great, but I’ve never seen this stage, and it’s fully as interesting.

    We didn’t quite make freezing yesterday morning: 34F was the bottom for areas where I know there are decent stands of frostweed. But we’re sitting at 32F right now, and may drop another degree or two. Armand Bayou’s closed today, but the nearby nature center’s full of frostweed, so I’ll check it out shortly.


    December 19, 2016 at 6:30 AM

    • And hooray for you if you find some frostweed ice this morning. From a distance I saw only a few strips of ice, but once I got closer I saw that a dozen or two plants were affected. I can never see frostweed ice again for the first time, but you still can experience it that way. When you do, you may want to try photographing without flash (if there’s enough light) and without flash (trying various amounts of it to get enough light and to keep from overexposing).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2016 at 6:44 AM

      • No joy. It warmed pretty quickly. I didn’t dawdle, but by the time I got out, it was 33-34F. I found nice patches of frostweed, but it wasn’t doing much more than standing around. Being so close to the water moderates temperatures here: sometimes as much as five or six degrees. During this next year, I need to map a few patches well inland. Thirty miles north and west might have done it.

        On the other hand, there’s still January, and the frostweed’s still standing. I hate to wish frozen pipes on Houston, but those conditions might give me frozen weeds.


        December 20, 2016 at 7:30 AM

        • Oh, too bad. In January of this year frostweed produced ice, so, as you say, there’s still a chance for next month, especially away from the Gulf of Mexico. I lucked out with a good display yesterday and ended up spending three and a half hours taking pictures (as if I needed more).

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 20, 2016 at 8:22 AM

  2. I like the satin appearance. I didn’t go out looking for it here as our early morning temp was -13. Everything is frostweed so to speak.

    Jim Ruebush

    December 19, 2016 at 7:08 AM

    • Satin seems an apt comparison. It also seems a novel one: I’ve never heard anyone else refer to frostweed ice that way. As for your negative prime temperature, I like the way you put it: everything is frostweed. If only we could get some regular ice here for photographers to play with for just a little while.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2016 at 7:15 AM

      • I will happily share our ice and cold. It will pass quickly as the temps the rest of the week reach into the 30s. Seems like a heat wave is coming. 🙂

        Funny how everything is relative.

        Jim Ruebush

        December 19, 2016 at 7:25 AM

        • Temps don’t get paid any benefits but I’d get a benefit out of some temporary ice.

          In contrast to everything being relative, I have few relatives, funny or otherwise. And along the line of relatively cold temperature, Eve has over a hundred first-degree cousins (as they refer to them in the Philippines)—and that’s just on her mother’s side.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2016 at 7:39 AM

  3. I love the title… and what a fascinating plant! I wonder if we have Frostweed in Oklahoma? I’ll have to look into this… though gosh, I’m not sure I’ll even venture out today except to do deer chores. We will be just at freezing – which is warm compared to the last two days! Keep warm!!


    December 19, 2016 at 7:38 AM

  4. Grear shot, Steve. Worth the effort. It’s 17F right now so I think I’ll wait a little bit before going out.


    December 19, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    • Thanks, Ken. I just got back from another three and a half hours playing with frostweed ice, of which there was plenty more this morning, thanks to a 26° overnight low. We can forgive you for not wanting to go out when it’s 17°.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2016 at 11:42 AM

  5. Oh, the anticipation of stealth discovery in the eary morning – and to be rewarded for your efforts! Congratulations!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 19, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    • Thanks, Lisa. Each year beginning in November the anticipation (I hear Carly Simon singing) rises that I’ll get to see frostweed ice again. Yesterday was a late first date for it, but who cares, just as long as it came. In fact I went out for a second and longer round this morning, given that the temperature was a few degrees colder and more plants were involved.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2016 at 11:48 AM

  6. I’m amazed every time I see those!


    December 19, 2016 at 6:57 PM

    • Lucky me has gotten to see them two mornings in a row now: two hours in the cold yesterday and three and a half hours today.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2016 at 7:12 PM

  7. I am quite happy to see that you did find some frostweed and captured such an interesting view of the frost bursting from the stem. Not that I don’t enjoy more dramatic shots of the frost, but it is nice to see something a little different. Wish I could see it firsthand some day.

    Steve Gingold

    December 20, 2016 at 6:28 PM

    • Artistically speaking, I still prefer the fancier formations, but to explain the phenomenon I thought it was time to show an early stage in the process. The day after this picture, I went back out to take even more pictures of the greater number of frostweed plants that did their thing in the several-degrees-colder temperature we had on Monday morning. What fun! After a couple of hours my body even began to feel less cold.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2016 at 8:33 PM

  8. Great shot indeed .. and I agree about the resemblance to satin


    December 24, 2016 at 1:17 AM

  9. […] wasn’t expecting another chance this season to photograph frostweed ice. My outlook changed two nights ago when the weather forecast for the morning of January 7th […]

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