Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

35° was low enough

with 53 comments

Our outdoor thermometer yesterday morning had dropped to about 35°F (1.6°C). I’ve learned from years of experience that that’s normally low enough for me to find ice extruded from the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in the nearest portion of Great Hills Park, about half a mile away. From home to there is downhill, and the frostweed plants grow at the base of a slope that descends from where the road bottoms out. Down there it’s apparently colder enough for frostweed ice to appear, because that’s what’s been happening for years now.

I took a bunch of pictures. Most of them, like the one below, didn’t show any blue. That’s because frostweed ice forms at and near the base of the plant’s stalk, and it’s hard to include sky in a photograph of such a low subject. To get the top portrait I lay on my mat on the ground and struggled to line the ice up with a patch of blue sky while excluding the many other nearby plants. Usually at least a little junk showed up at the bottom in that set of photographs, but today’s top picture proved a success.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2021 at 4:31 AM

53 Responses

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  1. Awesome images of this “ice hair”


    December 13, 2021 at 5:01 AM

  2. Wow!


    December 13, 2021 at 5:08 AM

  3. As cold as it was here yesterday morning, I wondered, but when I went online to check your current temperature, it was 43F, and I thought, “Well, maybe yes, maybe no.” Clearly, the answer was yes; I didn’t check early morning, and that probably made the difference. Besides, as you noted, there can be temperature differences between places. As sailors like to say, “Depend on local knowledge first.”

    We only made it down to 44F, so it will be a while now before there’s a chance here. Maybe it’s because of my recent immersion in to Hanukkah traditions, but I thought of Torah scrolls when I saw these.


    December 13, 2021 at 7:27 AM

    • You’ve got it! Torah scrolls is how I described frostweed ice in a reply to a comment on a post in 2013:

      No frost, but frostweed did its icy trick

      It’s good that I went out as early as I did yesterday. By 9:08 I’d finished frostweed ice pictures and walked across to the main part of Great Hills Park to see what else I could find. A little over an hour later, when I returned to my car, I walked back over to have a look at how the frostweed ice was coming along. I couldn’t find any; the rising temperature had melted all the ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 7:46 AM

  4. I always look forward to seeing your posts on frostweed. It’s an unusual native plant, and while I haven’t seen it here, I understand it can be found in Oklahoma. It is a wetland plant so it should thrive on the slough area of the orchard. I will pay more attention when I’m down there next time. I’ve been frequenting the area ever since Forrest spotted a beaver swimming, and a new lodge being built along the shallow bank.


    December 13, 2021 at 7:45 AM

    • As you know, I look forward to witnessing frostweed ice toward the end of each year. I do hope you’ll eventually get to see some of this magical ice in person. I wouldn’t describe frostweed as a wetland plant; I’ve seen it in plenty of environments where the ground isn’t sodden. That’s good because it means there are more places where you might come across it.

      On the other hand, you do have beavers. I’d welcome seeing some here, but as far as I know there aren’t any in Austin. An online article says their main populations in Texas are in the northeast part of the state.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 7:53 AM

  5. Congratulations, Steve! The lying-down acrobatics was successful again.

    Peter Klopp

    December 13, 2021 at 8:40 AM

  6. It’s a vicarious pleasure seeing your continued captures of this phenomenon. I still haven’t seen it here although I have visited the spots where I have shot our species of Frostweed flowers. One of these days. It really is a challenge to get below low plants when not even trying for the sky. I have a 15mm macro that allows for very close approaches but is so wide that it most often has to rest on the ground. Lying on my side helps but what would help even more is a camera with an articulating screen.

    Steve Gingold

    December 13, 2021 at 8:53 AM

    • My Canon 16–35mm allows pretty close focusing, too, but as is true for your 15mm lens, such a wide angle pulls in lots of peripheral stuff. Maybe our next Canon bodies will have an articulating screen. I noticed that Canon has introduced a new 100mm macro for its mirrorless cameras.


      Unlike the current 100mm macro, the new one allows focusing in to 1.4x rather than just 1x. Now if Canon would just come out with a mirrorless body that has at least the 50 megapixels of my 5D SR, I’d switch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 9:29 AM

      • I suppose at some point I might go mirrorless but for now the Mark IV, even at less than 50 megapixels, is sufficient for me. I’ve considered the 100 Mark II for the IS for all the insect shots I do but I am not quite ready to spring for any new lenses.

        Steve Gingold

        December 16, 2021 at 4:26 PM

        • I’m gonna check to see if the new 100mm could be connected via an adapter to my older camera, and if so, how cumbersome it would be.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2021 at 6:01 PM

          • I imagine there must be an adapter in the other direction for folks who want to be able to use their EF lenses so it would make sense for there to be one for mirrorless lenses to DSLRs. Which means there probably isn’t one.

            Steve Gingold

            December 16, 2021 at 6:21 PM

  7. Oh my, that does look both amazing and strange! It’s as if silky threads have been wrapped around the stem. Must have been cold down on the ground, even with your mat – brrr!

    Ann Mackay

    December 13, 2021 at 12:46 PM

    • Strange indeed. I even used that word as one of the tags at the bottom of the post. And speaking of that, if you click the “frostweed ice” tag you can scroll back through past years’ takes on this strange phenomenon, which you may not be familiar with. As for cold, what’s interesting is that although I’m sensitive to it and therefore normally don’t like it and even moved here from a colder part of the country to get away from winter, nevertheless, when I was out for 2.5 hours yesterday, including plenty of time on the ground, I never felt cold. I noticed that last year as well when I photographed frostweed ice. Artistic excitement can keep a person warm.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 2:33 PM

      • Hmm, maybe I should be buying more art materials rather than putting the central heating on, hehe!

        Ann Mackay

        December 15, 2021 at 11:39 AM

  8. Great shots of the ice! All of my frostweed are still intact. I’m not too far from KVUE (on Steck) and their website said it was 33 there. Nothing in my garden was impacted.


    December 13, 2021 at 1:19 PM

    • Thanks. Luckily for me, the low-lying frostweed area where I go in Great Hills Park seems charmed, ice-wise, even when other nearby spots don’t produce ice. Last year when these frostweed plants did their thing I purposely also went to a frostweed colony where Lost Horizon Dr. meets Rain Creek Parkway. It’s less than a mile from home but there was no ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 2:39 PM

  9. It looks as if there are fine silk threads wrapped around it.


    December 13, 2021 at 3:53 PM

  10. I would say that both images are a success. Frostweed is also a pleasant antidote to the only frost we get at this time of the year in NZ ie Frosty the Snowman.


    December 13, 2021 at 7:16 PM

    • Nothing succeeds like success.
      It seems strange to an American or a European to think of Frosty the Snowman at the beginning of summer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2021 at 8:49 PM

      • It seems very strange, even to me, as a New Zealander.


        December 13, 2021 at 10:27 PM

        • Do you have a sense of how common that feeling is there?

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 14, 2021 at 6:18 AM

          • I think my view is probably a minority one. Judging from what I see in the Malls and streets, I think most people are quite happy to accept the whole White Christmas package.


            December 14, 2021 at 11:19 PM

            • Then happy minoritarianism to you.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 14, 2021 at 11:21 PM

              • Happy I am. I think I have been in a minority all my life.


                December 14, 2021 at 11:57 PM

                • I sympathize, having also been in the minority in so many things throughout my life. My father used to say that the majority is always wrong; while that’s not literally true, the majority is often enough wrong that I’ll forgive the exaggeration.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 15, 2021 at 6:44 AM

                • I think that was taught to me as “the majority is not always right” or, in other words, learn to think for yourself and don’t blindly follow the crowd.


                  December 15, 2021 at 7:22 AM

                • Yes, “the majority is not always right” is the right way to put it. I see so much herd mentality and groupthink in the world today, but maybe it’s always been that bad.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 15, 2021 at 8:12 AM

                • I am fairly sure that groupthink has always been bad.


                  December 15, 2021 at 9:22 PM

                • I just learned from Merriam-Webster that the first use of the term groupthink dates back to 1952. Groupthink itself, as you said, probably has always been with us.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 16, 2021 at 6:48 AM

  11. Amazing plant… well-captured!

    Eliza Waters

    December 13, 2021 at 7:52 PM

  12. Marvelous!


    December 14, 2021 at 1:48 AM

  13. I’m glad your calisthenics paid off, Steve. Looking at your photos without any background information, one could confuse the extruding ice with fine, papery bark.


    December 14, 2021 at 1:43 PM

    • “It’s bark is worse than its ice.” That’s the thought that your comment triggered in my head. Don’t know if what I did qualifies as calisthenics, given that I was standing still or kneeling or lying down to take pictures most of the time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 14, 2021 at 3:11 PM

      • Calisthenics is what entered my mind when I visualized you lying down on your mat to try to capture the sky behind the plant.


        December 14, 2021 at 3:27 PM

        • That makes sense. It did occasionally take some effort to get back up from lying on the ground, so I guess that can count as calisthenics.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 14, 2021 at 3:56 PM

  14. […] frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is remarkable for the delicate ice it extrudes from its stalk when the temperature drops to freezing, the plant isn’t immune from having actual frost settle on it. I reconfirmed that on December […]

  15. Me thinks you have enough frostweed images to make a beautiful book – and conversation piece! Brrrrrr; our temps here – just before the rainy season begins – are around 80 for the highs and 72 or so for the lows.

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 16, 2021 at 12:37 AM

    • Does it ever freeze where you are?

      Obsessive photographer me has enough images to compile a bunch of nature photography books about my part of the world. The market for those books among publishers, however, isn’t all that great, at least not from what I experienced when I submitted a lot of proposals about a dozen years ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2021 at 6:53 AM

  16. Awesome natural look

    Dr Akot Makur Maluac

    December 23, 2021 at 4:14 PM

  17. […] share of Mexican hats, one of which appears above. Three days later, when I was in Great Hills Park to document frostweed ice, I came across a little Mexican hat bent over with frost and ailing as a result. That aside, […]

  18. […] performed their ice trick. Some did, though the formations were fewer and mostly a lot smaller than on December 12th. Nevertheless, I found ways to portray what ice there […]

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