Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Frostweed ice abstraction

with 25 comments

Envious of the ice and snow pictures that some of you who dwell in the lands of true winter have been showing lately, this morning I finally got a chance to follow suit after the overnight temperature dropped to freezing and a few frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in Great Hills Park did their magic ice trick. Shown here is a little piece of ice that separated from the frostweed stalk it had formed on.

If the phenomenon of crystallofolia is new to you, you can find a basic explanation in a post of mine from 2012 and a thorough treatment in an article by Bob Harms.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 24, 2019 at 11:48 AM

25 Responses

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  1. I went back to your post from 2012 – really interesting!


    January 24, 2019 at 12:23 PM

  2. A beautiful photo, Steve. Nice find!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 24, 2019 at 12:38 PM

    • When I glanced out from the road to the place where I’m accustomed to finding frostweed ice if some exists, I didn’t see any. When I went out a little later to see what else I might find, I was surprised on my way back to discover a little frostweed ice after all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 24, 2019 at 3:55 PM

  3. I may have mentioned learning that camphorweed (Pluchea spp.) will do this trick, too. This certainly is quite a different view: more solid and substantive than much frostweed ice. In fact, it brings to mind a sandstone cliff, with all of the striations and erosion patterns common to those.

    I was looking at the extended forecast and so far can’t see a hard freeze in our future, but time will tell.


    January 25, 2019 at 7:50 AM

    • I was initially taken aback by Pluchea getting called camphorweed, a name that for me has always referred to Heterotheca subaxillaris. Sure enough, though, it seems some people refer to Pluchea odorata as shrubby camphorweed. I’ve always known Pluchea odorata as marsh fleabane, and I’ve learned the various species of fleabane (e.g. prairie, Philadelphia) as being in the genus Erigeron. What confusion.

      The Bob Harms article mentions Pluchea odorata doing the same kind of ice trick as frostweed but I’ve never managed to see it. That’s because the stands of Pluchea odorata I’m familiar with are much harder for me to get to than the frostweed just down the road in Great Hills Park. Maybe some frigid morning I’ll motivate myself to try for the harder prize. In contrast, Pluchea odorata may be more accessible for you than frostweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2019 at 12:20 PM

      • It certainly is confusing. I associate the various fleabanes with Erigeron, too. I did notice that Eason lists ‘saltmarsh fleabane’ as an alternate name for Pluchea odorata. As an aside, the camphorweed you mentioned is common here, as well as the Gulf coast camphor daisy (Rayjacksonia phyllocephala). There are two other Rayjacksonia species: the viscid and the Houston camphor daisies. The viscid and Gulf Coast occur in the Rio Grande and Gulf Coastal Plains, but the Houston — Rayjacksonia aurea — is rare, and occurs only in Harris and Galveston counties.

        There’s plenty of frostweed around, but most I’ve located is behind gates that don’t open until at least 9 a.m. I finally joined iNaturalist, and it occurs to me that I might be able to locate other frostweed locations using that site. A friend in Santa Fe suggested I plant my own patch in her yard out in the country. That’s one way to guarantee access!


        January 25, 2019 at 7:18 PM

        • Sure: there’s a long history of people growing their own, even if the “weed” usually hasn’t been frostweed.

          Photographing frostweed ice at 9 in the morning here hasn’t been a problem for me. Usually the temperature at that hour has stayed in the 30s and the sun has still been low enough for light not to have reached the base of the plants. On the other hand, the plants you’ve located may be more out in the open and get sunlight earlier than the ones I’m accustomed to photographing. Even so, I’ll bet you’ll succeed if only you get some more freezing mornings.

          iNaturalist sounds like a promising way to find other plants.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 25, 2019 at 9:37 PM

    • By the way, probably one reason this frostweed ice looks different from what I’ve usually shown is that it was beginning to melt.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2019 at 12:22 PM

  4. This has a nice “ship’s prow” look to it, terrific level of detail.

    Robert Parker

    January 25, 2019 at 2:00 PM

    • Does that entitle me to say the “prow” proves my prowess? Seriously, the challenge in photographing the same subject year after year is to keep coming up with new ways to do it. I don’t recall any previous picture looking like this one, so I’m pleased.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2019 at 3:08 PM

      • I see a lot of ice, but I’d like to see these unusual plants doing this.
        If you come to Milwaukee this time of year, there’s no end of chilly subjects to work with: ice, snow, slush, sleet, hail, sleet, icicles, etc. 🙂

        Robert Parker

        January 25, 2019 at 3:25 PM

        • I’ve mentioned to some of you up north that, as much as I dislike the cold, I’d gladly put up with a few frigid days for the chance to photograph all the things you mentioned. I remember taking some pictures of the land covered in snow when I spent the winter of 1971 in Union Springs. As you indicate, at least frostweed ice is something you can’t get in Wisconsin or New York.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 25, 2019 at 3:33 PM

  5. That’s beautiful stuff!


    January 25, 2019 at 5:32 PM

  6. Marvelous! I’ve yet to find this interesting phenomenon. A great reward for a sharp eye!


    January 26, 2019 at 4:45 AM

    • Normally I wouldn’t take credit for a sharp eye when it comes to frostweed ice because I know where the plants are and a thermometer tells me the rest. In this case, though, there wasn’t much ice and I failed to see any from my usual lookout along the road. Only later, on my way back to the car after walking in the woods, did I catch a glimpse of a little bit of ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 26, 2019 at 5:16 AM

  7. I sure would like to see this myself. The two spots I know of with our species of Frostweed here get mowed every Autumn.

    Steve Gingold

    January 29, 2019 at 3:53 AM

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