Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The frostweed, yes.

with 40 comments

I don’t know if Carl Sandburg knew about frostweed’s magic ice trick, but those of you who’ve been coming here for a while sure do. When the Austin temperature dropped to 26°F (–3°C) on New Year’s Eve, I knew there was a strong likelihood for frostweed ice on January 1st. When morning came, I dressed warmly and headed for a stand of Verbesina virginica I know in Great Hills Park, there to spend two hours in the cold taking scads of pictures.

If you’re not familiar with the frostweed ice phenomenon, you can read more about it in an early post.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 2, 2018 at 4:33 AM

40 Responses

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  1. very pretty !


    January 2, 2018 at 5:01 AM

  2. How to tell if it’s cold in your neighbourhood; check the frostweed. Who needs a thermometer!


    January 2, 2018 at 5:24 AM

  3. Hooray! I’m glad you found some. The variety of ways in which the plant produces ice is interesting. The long, ribbon-like curls always are fun, but in this photo, it’s a sense of motion that caught my eye. It’s almost as though we can see the ice being extruded.

    We’re at 30 degrees now, and probably will drop a bit. There’s a huge stand of frostweed at Armand Bayou, and I’m going to try my luck. In the meantime, this isn’t Sandburg, but it came to mind when I first saw your photo:

    Frosty the Photog was a jolly happy soul,
    With his camera bag and some lenses fine
    And a willingness to stroll.

    Frosty the Photog didn’t stay inside to play.
    He enjoyed the warmth, but the frostweed called
    So he came to life one day

    There must have been some magic in that
    Old dried plant he found
    For when it split and curled out ice
    He began to dance around…


    January 2, 2018 at 5:56 AM

    • Good luck in finding your first frostweed ice this morning. Over here, given that the overnight temperature fell 6° to 8° below freezing, there was no doubt about the frostweed doing its thing. In fact I found more plants affected than usual. That said, I did no dancing, but a fair amount of rolling around on the ground to get in close to the iced bases of the frostweed and go for different compositions. I also did some judicious rolling about to get back up again each time while trying to avoid hitting nearby ice formations.

      As soon as I saw stanzas, I thought you might have done a take-off on “The People, Yes.” But the Linda, no; it was something more appropriate for the occasion. I had no idea who wrote the original song, so I looked it up: Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson. Can’t say I ever heard of either one. The pair also wrote “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and “Smokey the Bear.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 7:04 AM

    • I love this, Linda 🙂


      January 2, 2018 at 10:00 AM

  4. What an interesting thing for a plant to do.

    Jim R

    January 2, 2018 at 6:49 AM

    • It is. Only a few species are known to do it. Fortunately for me it’s a common native plant here and I know where I can find some just half a mile from home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 7:06 AM

  5. Glad you found some more of this magical stuff to share with us.

    Sherry Felix

    January 2, 2018 at 7:03 AM

    • Me too. I think this was the sixth winter in a row that I got to see the magic. The challenge is to find new ways to photograph the phenomenon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 7:20 AM

  6. Hooray! I knew we would get to see some. Thanks for your tenacity! It seems such an amazing thing to me.
    Happy New Year and wishing you more spectacular captures in 2018.


    January 2, 2018 at 7:06 AM

    • The cold challenges my capacity for tenacity. Fortunately I get caught up enough in photographing the ice that the time passes quickly and I only occasionally notice the cold.

      A happy 2018 to you, too, and here’s to more spectacles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 7:43 AM

  7. I was hoping for frostweed this morning when I saw how cold it is down your way. So glad you felt like braving the cold. I’ll be braving 10 degrees today to load up a gallery’s worth of paintings. They are heading off to a nature center for two months.


    January 2, 2018 at 10:04 AM

    • On the good side of things, at least your paintings will go inside the nature center. Happy show!

      The temperature here tomorrow morning is predicted to be even colder. Don’t know if I “need” to venture out again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 10:15 AM

      • Thanks!
        I read about how the arctic vortex is eroding, and that is allowing all that cold polar air to escape south. This seems like bad news because it probably will continue and become our new normal. So much for the milder winters I was hoping for. Well I guess that’s what eddie bauer coats and Muck boots are for.


        January 4, 2018 at 11:19 AM

        • Fluctuations are the essence of weather. The only “normal” is change.

          I did venture out again into the cold yesterday morning. The chance to do more frostweed ice pictures was too good to pass up, especially as the forecast for the coming week showed and continues to show no more freezing weather here. In fact the highs for the five days beginning Sunday are all in the 60s. That’s much more common here in January than below-freezing temperatures.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 4, 2018 at 11:26 AM

  8. Lovely frost cover!


    January 2, 2018 at 10:14 AM

    • While the plant is indeed called frostweed, what you see is actually ice rather than frost. Frost settles on the outside of things, but this ice got pushed out from inside the stem of the frostweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 10:17 AM

  9. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this plant/phenomenon, it is just the coolest thing. I read your earlier posts, too, and you mentioned phyllo dough, it’s also like silk threads wound on a bobbin.
    During 2017, you and Linda L. have shown details of plants that I’ve pretty much ignored for years. So 2018 I’m going to be taking a closer look when on a walk.

    Robert Parker

    January 2, 2018 at 10:52 AM

    • That’s good to hear, as there are worlds awaiting you. Growing up on Long Island, I knew essentially nothing about the native plants there. What I learned I learned in Texas beginning in 1999. Some of that knowledge transfers to other regions.

      Yes, frostweed ice is “just the coolest thing,” and in more than one sense. You’re the first person here who’s come up with the metaphor of silk threads wound on a bobbin. I can see it now that you’ve suggested it.

      Frostweed is primarily a plant of the Southeast, so unless you do some traveling or the plant extends its range, you probably won’t get to experience the magical ice phenomenon in person.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2018 at 11:11 AM

      • I don’t have any immediate plans, but I’d like to visit Charleston again, and see Savannah, so if it’s the right time of year, I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

        Robert Parker

        January 2, 2018 at 11:34 AM

        • Let’s hope you make it. You’d want to be there in the morning after an overnight freeze.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 2, 2018 at 4:54 PM

  10. Up till this week the only place I had seen this phenomenon was here on your blog. Then last night I saw a picture someone had posted to the local news station of “frost flowers”. It appeared from the roots of a plant and had become something resembling an elaborate frog button closure. The artistry of nature is often surprising.


    January 2, 2018 at 11:08 PM

    • Now that you’re one step closer to this phenomenon, all that remains is for you to see it in person. I’ve read that sometimes a plant from a warm part of the world acts this way when it’s cultivated outdoors in a place that’s cold enough to freeze. Did your local station happen to mention what kind of plant had produced the “frost flowers”?

      You probably won’t be surprised that I had to look up “frog button closure” to see what one looks like. Human artistry and naming are also often surprising.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2018 at 6:55 AM

      • Unfortunately they did not mention which plant. LOL, I almost included a link, but you’re such an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge, that I took it for granted you would know. Frog fasteners go in and out of fashion often. At the moment they are in fashion again. Oh yes, and I really enjoyed this explanation of the origins of the closure’s use and name: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/277829/button-up-that-frog-will-you


        January 3, 2018 at 11:13 AM

        • Thanks for your link to that exchange of comments. The people offered speculations but nothing definitive. My intuition, for what it’s worth—not much!—is that the term arose based on a resemblance to a frog’s front legs curving forward to form two loops.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 3, 2018 at 6:01 PM

  11. Frostweed – I had no idea why it was called that, until now! Thanks!

    shakti sarkin

    January 3, 2018 at 10:04 AM

    • You’re welcome. The name is a little misleading, given that the phenomenon involves ice rather than frost.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2018 at 10:44 AM

  12. […] opportunity for photographic abstractions, and that’s what you’re seeing here. Unlike the picture you saw last time, which involved flash, today’s images were made by natural light, which necessitated wider […]

  13. We are under “frost” siege here on the east coast too. Super cool shot, I love the artistry you are capturing with the ice. Its is really amazing.

    Noel Hartem

    January 5, 2018 at 7:00 AM

    • On television yesterday I saw the blizzard striking the Northeast. For all the cold and inconvenience, at least you experience snow and real ice. Down here, frostweed ice is often the only natural ice we see each winter. Its intricacies make up for the cold beauties in nature we don’t get to see.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 5, 2018 at 7:17 AM

      • Im glad you appreciate the beauty of it. This is the first bad snow and cold we have had in a while so I am excited about the change.

        Noel Hartem

        January 5, 2018 at 7:20 AM

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