Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A second round of frostweed ice this season

with 30 comments

After I awoke yesterday morning and saw that our outdoor thermometer showed exactly 32°F (0°C), I knew that after the sun rose I’d be heading down to Great Hills Park to find out if the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) had gone through a second round of their famous ice trick. The view from where I parked didn’t look promising, but once I walked down the slope to the frostweed plants, I saw that there’d be enough ice to work on. In fact I ended up spending a little over three hours there.

I took the third picture at almost 11 o’clock, when the temperature
had risen to 45° and the frostweed ice was slowly melting.

If you’re not familiar with this unusual phenomenon, what happens is that when the temperature drops to freezing the frostweed plant draws water up from underground via its roots and extrudes it through the splitting sides of its stalk as delicate sheets of ice, mostly close to the ground. You can learn a lot more about the science of frostweed ice in an article by Bob Harms.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2020 at 4:34 AM

30 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I always enjoy your images of smoothly extruded ice, but the first photo brought a smile. It looks like chicken feathers: more precisely, a feather duster. I might have had a chance to find some ice yesterday; at home it was only 38F, but by the time I passed the turnoff to Brazos Bend, there was frost on the ground and the temperature had dropped to 34F. Alas, I had Frost’s miles to go, and couldn’t stop by the woods.


    December 18, 2020 at 5:05 AM

    • I saw something scraggly in the first picture’s ice, and now you’ve identified it as a feather duster; why didn’t I think of that? Too bad you had Frost’s miles to go. Dickinson’s model would have been preferable: “Because I could not stop for Frostweed — He kindly stopped for me.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 7:19 AM

      • At first I saw the feather duster similarity too. Are those crystals as delicate as they look in that first image? What a fascinating bit of plant physiology.


        December 18, 2020 at 5:10 PM

        • The icy extrusions are pretty delicate, and they weight very little. I’ve occasionally picked up some that have dropped off; several have stayed together, while others have fallen apart. I hope you’ll get to experience frostweed ice for yourself one of these days.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 18, 2020 at 5:41 PM

  2. The first shot looks like you captured the instant of an explosion, or an underwater shot of an object plunging into the water. This plant continues to fascinate me, a structure with some really serious plumbing problems.

    Robert Parker

    December 18, 2020 at 6:15 AM

    • The first part of your first sentence reminded me that Marcel Duchamp’s now-famous 1912 Cubist painting “Nude Descending a Staircase” was initially ridiculed as depicting an explosion in a shingle factory.” I’m happy to recycle the initials of frostweed’s “serious plumbing problems” as “Steve’s portrait possibilities.” As you see here, some of those possibilities turned into realities.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 7:35 AM

  3. I have so enjoyed your photos which have introduced me to new flowers as well as shared lovely captures of familiar ones.


    December 18, 2020 at 7:28 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know. I knew nothing about native plants when I moved here in 1976. Now I do and am happy to share that knowledge.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 7:45 AM

  4. The second image made me think of our whitetail fawns with their tails flared and fanned out! I’ve been looking forward to your frostweed photos. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed them here, but I haven’t been out to look much either. Now that I’m walking the fawns to the west, showing them the area, maybe I can keep an eye out for it!


    December 18, 2020 at 7:29 AM

    • Leave it to you to see frostweed ice as a whitetail fawn’s flared tail; that’s certainly a unique interpretation. Although frostweed plants can produce ice more than once in each year’s cold season, the amount diminishes. I believe your area has already gone down to freezing several times, so it may be too late for much more frostweed ice this season—or it may not be, and there’s no harm looking. What I recommend for 2021 is to scope out the locations of some nearby frostweed plants in advance so you can go right to them once the first freeze hits you next fall. For years I’ve been relying on the same stand of frostweed plants just half a mile from home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 8:02 AM

  5. The three hours were well spent in documenting this unusual phenomenon, Steve. Would the ice not melt away as time went by on this brilliant morning?

    Peter Klopp

    December 18, 2020 at 8:28 AM

    • By the time I went back home at around 11 o’clock the ice was beginning to melt, primarily from the warming temperature (45°F, 7°C by then, and warmer later). As the sun rose higher, some of its light finally began reaching the frostweed ice and also contributed to melting. I’ve never stayed around long enough to see when the last of the ice finally melts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 8:36 AM

  6. I enjoy how in the second photo the ice is reflecting the blue of the sky, but all of these are nice. Linda’s right~the first one does look like a feather duster! :). And the third one is compelling. The warm color at the point of extrusion, and the smooth sheet of ice that looks so much more massive than it of course is.


    December 18, 2020 at 9:33 AM

    • As you look at the second picture perhaps you’re hearing Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson’s song “Blue Christmas.” The warm colors at the points of extrusion in the third picture come from the frostweed stalk, the outer portion of which the freezing water has split open on its way outward.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2020 at 9:49 AM

  7. I love photos of frostweed!

    Lavinia Ross

    December 18, 2020 at 8:08 PM

    • And I love taking them. I went a bit crazy that morning and took just over a thousand pictures of frostweed ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 6:31 AM

  8. That first shot looks as curly as Santa’s beard!

    Eliza Waters

    December 18, 2020 at 8:10 PM

  9. I did not know this at all, but it is a plant that is not native to us in Belgium. Besides the fact that the plant has this special property, it is also a great subject for photographers. Thanks for sharing.


    December 19, 2020 at 1:20 AM

    • You’re welcome. Each place has its own special things in nature, and this is one of ours. In your latest post you showed several of yours, like that highly sculptural fungus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 6:35 AM

  10. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a picture of frostweed – how extraordinary!

    Ann Mackay

    December 19, 2020 at 10:08 AM

    • Yes, it is extraordinary. Still, many (probably most) people who live in areas with frostweed are unaware of this ice phenomenon, as I was for my first two decades in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 10:58 AM

  11. Wow! This is new to me. Your first photo reminded me of a cluster of seeds—milkweed-like. Thanks.


    December 19, 2020 at 3:58 PM

    • Welcome to the wonders of frostweed ice. Now that you mention it, the ice in the first picture does resemble milkweed fluff. As far as I’m aware there’s no connection, but who knows?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 5:04 PM

  12. I remember this from a previous post – 3 hours! Nice work! 🙂


    December 21, 2020 at 2:15 PM

    • My frostweed picture outings have been averaging two per cold season recently. Three hours is on the long side for a session.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 5:28 PM

  13. Hi Steve – it’s great to tag along later and read the comments. Feather dusters and milkweed fluff. You have some very creative readers, and their feedback adds a lot.

    It’s funny that you went out with expectations and stayed for three hours. I do that almost every time I ‘step out’ in nature – there’s just so much to see – to explore – or to just ‘absorb.’ I thought about your return to your home, and surely Eve smiles every time you return – and wonders what treasures you found on your most-recent outing!

    That Texas Persimmon image was a true beauty. I first read the title, which sent me careening backwards in time to my teenage years. We would ride horses ‘back in the fields’ and stop at a tree with green persimmons. If a ‘new’ accomplice was with me, I’d toss him/her a fruit and say, ‘try this,’ then we’d laugh and laugh.. I never cared for the ripe fruit – it seemed strange, but the wildlife did!

    I’m writing off line, and should put the persimmon comments where they rightfully belong – but for now they’re squeezed into this one!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 22, 2020 at 5:56 PM

    • Not to worry, Lisa: it’s okay to have squeezed the persimmon juice into this post’s comments container. I was certainly happy with the persimmon trunk portrait, which with processing came out better than I’d imagined at the time I took pictures of it. Hooray for minimalism and abstraction, right? Unlike you, I have no childhood experience with persimmons to look back on. Your more rural childhood provided a much closer contact with nature than I had in the New York suburbs.

      The first couple of times near the end of the year that the local weather forecast says the temperature will likely dip close to freezing, I get warm clothing ready, bring my thigh-high boots in from the car to warm up, attach a ring flash to my macro lens, and plan to go down to the nearest stand of frostweed. I have plenty of experience with frostweed ice now, and I’m accustomed to staying out more than two hours so I can try out lots of approaches, both with and without flash. On this latest round I ended up taking a thousand pictures. I think only once before did I get that many. Of course some didn’t work out well, but then I got some nice ones, too. Eve is used to me being out a long time and coming back with a slew of photographs. In the past few months, after the Texas summer finally abated, she’s gone along with me many times. She’s often found things for me to photograph that I might have missed on my own, like the green snake that I showed a week and a half ago.

      ¡Feliz año nuevo!

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 6:46 PM

      • I won’t chastise myself for returning with three-or-four hundred images to process,which is happening right now each time I check on the birds in the nearby pond. As you know, we learn so much when we study each image, and I don’t ever delete images until at home – there might be surprises waiting to be discovered. You often show those little unexpected details.

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        December 23, 2020 at 6:42 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: