Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The ice storm of 2007

with 33 comments

On January 17, 2007, Austin had a rare ice storm. As a photographer who lives in the warm climate of central Texas and who much prefers heat to cold, I was nevertheless happy for a chance to try my hand at getting pictures of the sort I’ve envied northern nature photographers for. To that end, I dressed in a sweater, gloves, thigh-high waterproof boots, and a well-padded winter jacket with a hood, and carefully walked the half-mile downhill to Great Hills Park. There I found, among other crystalline wonders, the branches of a poverty weed tree, Baccharis neglecta, bowed down by the weight of the ice encrusting them:

Look more closely at this abstract view of ice encasing lichens on a branch:

Ice did nothing to dim, and may even have enhanced the saturation of, the red fruits on a possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua. (You recently saw a non-iced view of possumhaw fruits from much farther away.)

And oh the retributive delight of all those who suffer in January from allergies set off by the pollen of Ashe junipers, Juniperus ashei, to find the twigs of that tree smothered in ice:

More nice ice next time.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2018 at 4:55 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Beautiful photos. We had sleet and snow at this end of the state. Most of the plants are just looking mushy.

    automatic gardener

    January 17, 2018 at 7:48 AM

  2. These are great shots! The lichens look like they’re glowing, and I especially like the juniper, like those paperweights with objects embedded in them.
    It’s good to have a photographer’s eye, I think here in Boston, the novelty of ice-encrusted objects is wearing thin, and people just walk by them.

    Robert Parker

    January 17, 2018 at 8:30 AM

    • Thanks. That storm 11 years ago today remains by far the best opportunity I’ve had during my 41 winters in Austin to photograph the sort of ice that encases things. Most years I get to photograph only the kind of ice extruded by frostweed, which is primarily white rather than clear. I understand that up where you are people get tired of ice because it’s so frequent; down here it’s enough of a novelty that at least some people enjoy. Of course that includes kids who get a day off from school.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 9:04 AM

  3. Photos of ice-covered asphalt and concrete don’t have quite the same pizzazz as these beauties. The ice-encased lichens reminded me of the Venetian glass trade beads that still can be found in West Africa, and who doesn’t love seeing Ashe juniper contained?

    I think you’re right that the wind helped to prevent buildup. Every time the palms outside my window began to turn white and frosty, a gust of wind would shake them, and bits of ice would fall to the ground.

    I think my favorite here is the possumhaw, which positively glows. It pairs nicely with the possumhaw photo I saw in the NPSOT News. Both that tree and the icy dewberry cane are wonderful photos: especially the dewberry cane.


    January 17, 2018 at 9:18 AM

    • I’m with you: drab asphalt and concrete don’t do much, while it’s hard not to favor the rich red of the possumhaw. Not for nothing do people call the tree winterberry, given the way the red fruits stand out in the bleakness of the season. I’m just sorry I didn’t get another chance yesterday to take new possumhaw ice pictures using a camera with more than 8 megapixels.

      One reason I decided not to include the dewberry cane picture here is that it’s in the current NPSoT News, as you mentioned. Tomorrow I’ll include a different dewberry ice picture taken during the same photo session that produced the one of the cane.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 1:32 PM

    • The ice encasing the lichen reminded me of glass, too: the kind of textured privacy glass common on shower doors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 1:49 PM

  4. Great captures. We seldom get that baked in feeling here.


    January 17, 2018 at 9:23 AM

    • I’m surprised. I’d have thought that in Sweden you often get to see plants encased in ice. I wonder why that doesn’t happen more often up there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 1:36 PM

      • I guess the snow/rain/ice has to come in the right order? It usually snows here before freezing.


        January 17, 2018 at 1:40 PM

        • Yes, that would explain it. The 2007 ice storm didn’t start as snow; in fact, there was never any snow, just ice.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2018 at 1:43 PM

  5. Lovely!


    January 17, 2018 at 9:26 AM

  6. Beautiful pictures ! But I wonder what happens to all the gardens in Austin, with the cacti, and other hot and dry loving plants ??


    January 17, 2018 at 11:21 AM

    • No question that some cultivated plants don’t survive. The native cacti, on the other hand, seem none the worse for wear. I’ve occasionally photographed prickly pear pads with nothing but their spines visible poking through a covering of snow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 1:40 PM

  7. Rare views from Texas, but very pretty ones!


    January 17, 2018 at 8:54 PM

    • Rare views, indeed: during my 41 years in Austin, I don’t remember another ice storm like that one. I hoped for repeat yesterday, but almost none of the rain that fell on vegetation turned into ice when the temperature fell and stayed below freezing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2018 at 9:04 PM

  8. Oh, I love these images, Steve! Ice is so much fun to photograph. My last great ice photography was in December of 2013. I found it interesting to note that Daisy deer and her fawn Spirit, did not mind nipping frozen berries and leaves right off the trees. There was much crunching to be heard… despite me warning them that it could be bad for their teeth! Apparently, wildlife doesn’t seem to mind the ice at all.


    January 18, 2018 at 8:07 AM

    • I’m glad you tipped me off to your ice experience in 2013. I used the search box on your blog and found this:


      Excellent patterns. Your technique of holding the ice sheet up to the light is one I’ve occasionally used for leaves or other thin things. An ice disk is ideal for it.

      I assume animals know how much ice they can safely chomp. But maybe not, and some chipped or broken teeth might be the result.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2018 at 9:14 AM

      • I remember doing that post. I used the cracks in the picnic table to hold the bucket ice disk firmly, and I backed off to photograph from various angles. It was a fun experiment!

        My husband is a hunter so we have several European mount skulls in our home, and I have collected many deer skulls (and other mammals) while out on my river hikes. It is interesting to note the age of deer by examining the teeth. I cannot say I have ever seen a jaw with broken or chipped teeth, I’m sure they exist. Some are worn down almost flat.


        January 19, 2018 at 2:06 PM

        • At times I’ve used my left hand to hold something up at arm’s length while photographing with the camera in my right hand, but your improvisation to use the cracks in the picnic table to hold the ice disk was better because then you had both hands free to photograph the ice from various angles, as you mentioned.

          Perhaps some of the wearing down of the teeth you’ve seen came from chomping hard things like ice.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2018 at 4:15 PM

  9. Beautiful ice coating photos, Steve. Nature puts on a good show!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 28, 2018 at 10:28 AM

    • It sure does. Too bad we haven’t gotten that kind of coating again here for 10 years and counting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2018 at 10:48 AM

  10. Love these. And, I can stay indoors to enjoy them 🙂


    February 4, 2018 at 8:21 PM

    • I’m by nature an indoor person, yet I’d gladly brave the cold for another chance to photograph ice-coated things like these.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2018 at 9:49 PM

      • Did I mention to you that I came across some photographs a biologist from southern Illinois took of plants creating frost flowers? In his article he did mention frost weed but the plants in his article were different plants. He seemed to be implying that several plants here do it but I’ve never seen it.


        February 5, 2018 at 9:01 AM

        • From what I’ve read, only a few native plants do it. I’ve heard, though, that some non-native plants brought here from different climates have been known to do it. Here’s what the late Bob Harms said: “Roughly 30 species worldwide were noted in the 19th Century, many of these culivated exotic plants, and the list of garden plants keeps growing as reports from enthusiasts are collected, but for native populations with relatively predictable occurrences of this phenomenon in recent years only four species have been commonly recognized in online articles: Cunila origanoides (stone mint, common dittany), Helianthemum canadense (frostweed), Verbesina virginica (frostweed, iceweed). Pictures of these ice formations abound on the web, submitted by naturalists in all sections of the country. To this can be added Pluchea odorata (marsh fleabane, sweetscent), which I was able to observe in Central Texas in 2007–2010.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 5, 2018 at 9:14 AM

          • Thank you. Yes, I think these plants were mentioned but I wasn’t where I could write them down. It does make sense that non-natives would do it too, poor things bursting their arteries, so to speak.


            February 5, 2018 at 9:24 AM

            • I keep meaning to pursue that fourth one for crystallofolia but the nearest stands of Pluchea odorata that I know of aren’t as convenient to reach. With frostweed I just roll half a mile downhill to my neighborhood park.

              Steve Schwartzman

              February 5, 2018 at 9:35 AM

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