Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Frostweed ice and frostweed frost

with 31 comments

The overnight temperature dropped enough from November 30th into December 1st for frostweed (Verbesina virginica) to do its magic ice trick, as I found when I spent a couple of hours that morning taking pictures in the shade in Great Hills Park (the sun hadn’t risen above the trees yet). I made photographs with and without flash; the latter came out softer and bluer, as you see above. If you’re new to the frostweed ice phenomenon, you may want to read an excellent article about it by Bob Harms.

Many frostweed leaves had actual frost on them, as shown in the second picture.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2020 at 4:33 AM

31 Responses

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  1. Sadly, this plant does not range this far north. Would be an incentive to venture out one early frosty morning.


    December 2, 2020 at 5:53 AM

    • As someone who doesn’t like the cold, venture out into the frigid morning is what I steel myself to do when the weather forecast calls for the first freeze each fall. I dress warmly on those freezing mornings, including rubber boots, and the mat I normally carry with me anyhow serves the added purpose of keeping me drier when I sit or lie on the ground to get down close to where the frostweed ice lives its brief life.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 6:00 AM

      • The mat is a great idea. We wear spikes on our boots to avoid sudden falls from black ice and such. One product is “YakTracs”, there are others.


        December 4, 2020 at 5:37 AM

        • Then we each use something appropriate for the conditions we encounter. I’ve wondered, over the years, what reasons passers-by may have attributed to me for carrying a mat around.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 4, 2020 at 6:58 AM

  2. I’m with both of you guys. In fact, I’m going to admit that I’m relieved to know the plant doesn’t grow here so I don’t have to feel guilty for not venturing out! This magic trick never gets old, though. Thank you for venturing out to capture it.


    December 2, 2020 at 8:11 AM

    • You may not be off the hook yet. The article I linked to in my text says that Pluchea odorata also performs a similar ice trick, and that species is reported for Cook County, just below you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 11:28 AM

      • Something to keep In mind. I did think there was another species that did it. I’ll make enquiries.


        December 3, 2020 at 8:04 AM

  3. Beautiful shots, both. My frostweed are not frosty, as my garden didn’t get cold enough–I didn’t see any ice in my birdbaths. I have noticed that my hamelia and the purple heart have that wilted salad look, so I guess it got cold enough. I’ll need to wait for the next hard freeze to see the frost of frostweed.


    December 2, 2020 at 9:07 AM

    • I woke up rather late yesterday, after 7 o’clock, and when I checked the outdoor temperature I found it to be 34°. Had it gotten a little colder before that? I didn’t know, but in other years a reading of 34° at my house had been cold enough for the frostweed I rely on half a mile downhill in Great Hills Park to produce ice. Sure enough, there was ice this time, too, on a couple of dozen plants. After taking plenty of pictures, I moved on to another stand of frostweed at the corner of Lost Horizon Dr. and Rain Creek Parkway that I’d been thinking of checking out just for variety. I found no evidence those plants had produced any ice at all. My customary location may get colder than others nearby, which is fine with me, given its convenience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 11:38 AM

  4. Nice shots. I am afraid that I was in bed for too long to get any from my single Frostweed. Took a look at it, and it might have let out some sap. Will have to set alarm next time a freeze is expected – if the plant is still alive by then.


    December 2, 2020 at 9:10 AM

    • Setting an alarm sounds like a good plan. I didn’t do that but did set an alert on my computer’s calendar. In my experience the ice lingers a few hours into the morning. It was all still there at almost 10 o’clock when I left the site, so if you saw no signs of ice or even meltwater, it seems likely your plant didn’t do anything. You’ll probably still get more chances this winter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 11:45 AM

  5. The frostweed and the curled leaves with a fitting dark background make your photo a masterpiece, Steve.
    I also learned that you do get frost where you live. I wonder how your wildflowers react when it gets below freezing.

    Peter Klopp

    December 2, 2020 at 9:57 AM

    • Yes, we do get occasional frost in our cold period. Yesterday I noticed some frost on a still-flowering greenthread. Whether that was enough to put a seasonal end to it and to the other wildflowers we’ve been seeing around the area, I don’t know. If the coming days are mild enough, new flowers may still come up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 11:49 AM

  6. That is interesting that plants do that, I’ve only seen similar ‘ice flowers’ that rise up out of mud.

    Eliza Waters

    December 2, 2020 at 3:46 PM

  7. Wow, that was fascinating. I had no idea. No clue if we have any of that around here but I’ll certainly keep my eyes open now.

    Todd Henson

    December 2, 2020 at 5:43 PM

  8. Lucky you! It’s sometimes hard to remember we’re in the same state. Our low on the morning you found the frostweed was 44F. No frost here, let alone a freeze. I always enjoy seeing your frost flowers, but I must say the second photo is especially appealing. It looks like a piece of jewelry Harry Winston might have designed if he’d decided to play with pavé diamonds. The black ‘velvet’ background is perfect for the image.


    December 2, 2020 at 6:29 PM

    • Yup, Texas is one big state, that’s for sure. Looks like the Gulf of Mexico kept you warmer, as it generally does. After the slight but convenient (for frostweed) overnight freeze, our temperature warmed up through the morning and by afternoon had already climbed to 60° or so.

      While the common name frostweed apparently arose in reference to the “frost flowers” it produces, many people don’t know that and probably presume the name has something to do with actual frost. That’s why I threw in the second picture. I don’t think I’d ever shown that before, even though I see it just about every time I go out to photograph frostweed ice. I had to look up pictures of pavé diamond pieces to see what you meant about the resemblance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2020 at 8:36 PM

      • I don’t have any Harry Winston tucked into my vault, but I do have an expandable pavé rhinestone bracelet that my grandfather gave me when I was about ten. It was my first ‘grown up’ gift, and it might as well have been diamonds.


        December 2, 2020 at 8:59 PM

  9. Well done for braving the cold and for getting down to get these magnificent photos of this fascinating plant. The top image is really quite something special.

    Peter Hillman

    December 3, 2020 at 3:41 AM

    • Plenty of people in cold climates see sights like the second one, as I did when I was growing up in New York. Many fewer know about the frostweed ice phenomenon, which I agree with you is quite something special. It’s worth going out in the cold for.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2020 at 6:07 AM

  10. The two places I find our species of Frostweed by the side of trails mow them down as part of the land management. So I look forward to seeing yours annually and this did not disappoint.

    Steve Gingold

    December 5, 2020 at 9:35 AM

    • I’m happy to provide vicarious enjoyment but sorry you don’t get the first-hand experience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2020 at 9:37 AM

      • As am I. I don’t know for sure that ours provides the same icy curls. Maybe I’ll happen upon some or see if I can purchases some plants of my own to nurture.

        Steve Gingold

        December 5, 2020 at 10:15 AM

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