Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Icing strikes again

with 21 comments

When the Austin weather forecast on January 1st said that temperatures would drop into the high 20s by Sunday morning, I knew I’d have to go out and check local frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) again to see if any 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 was.


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A few years ago I read Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. The primary author was the late Hans Rosling, aided by his son Ola Rosling and Ola’s wife Anna Rosling Rönnlund. The book does a great job in bringing forth facts and statistics to document the progress our world has been making, despite many people’s belief to the contrary. I highly recommend Factfulness. You can also find lots of facts at gapminder.org that led Hans Rosling to the conclusion that the world has been getting better.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 3, 2022 at 4:28 AM

21 Responses

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  1. When I saw Ellington had dropped to freezing, I had hopes, but when I found not even a skim of ice in my birds’ water bowl, it seemed unlikely that the patch of frostweed I found would have performed its trick. I made a quick trip to the nature center to check on it, and sure enough, it’s just sitting there.

    None of the other local places where I’ve found the plant are open on Mondays, or don’t open until 9, so I’ll just enjoy yours. I like the asymmetrical ice in the first; it reminds me of a flag flying in the wind. And the bits of split stem and bark (?) in the second are a nice contrast to the smooth surface of the ice.


    January 3, 2022 at 7:34 AM

    • I’m sorry this wasn’t finally the time you got to see frostweed ice in person. It’s happened here as late as February, if I remember right, so you may still get your wish this season.

      The ice in the top picture reminded me, in reverse, of the now gone Old Man of the Mountain in Vermont:
      (Another Old Man in Vermont may live on in Congress ad infinitum).

      I decided to include broken ice formations in both pictures to emphasize dynamism rather than the symmetry and smoothness I’ve place up in some other frostweed ice photographs I’ve shown here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2022 at 7:57 AM

  2. Very cool. I remember last year when I first saw your blog you were documenting ice. Glad to know it’s back. The world is getting better in some aspects but worse in others. As an example of getting worse, most true wilderness is gone, even the oceans are polluted, and species diversity has decreased significantly.

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 3, 2022 at 9:14 AM

    • Cool in both senses. In the past few years I’ve typically documented frostweed ice twice each winter; as of yesterday, I met my unofficial quota for this winter.

      From the little I’ve learned about the history of life on earth, the planet has undergone mass extinctions a bunch of times, each of which cleared the way for many new species to emerge and evolve. Of course that took hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, and your concern is to slow down or stop the disappearance of species right now. As scientific and technological progress has led to great advances, I’m optimistic we’ll see discoveries that make the natural world better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2022 at 10:00 AM

  3. Such an odd plant, self-destructing in a very interesting way.

    Robert Parker

    January 3, 2022 at 4:24 PM

    • Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this species is biennial or even perennial, so these plants can recover from having had the ice split their outer bark.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2022 at 6:09 PM

  4. You’re getting some nice opportunities for these shots. Always beautiful – brrrrr!
    I don’t think I replied to your question about freezing temps here. I live close to sea level on the western side of the country. Highs here are usually in the 80s, and lows in the 70s. The coolest is in the 60s, and that always seems cold!

    In the Sierra, however, the weather is very temperamental. Here’s a good example from ‘last year.’

    and the normal views if one goes to Chimborazo.

    This past year there have been some avalanches/deaths.

    • It sounds like where you are now is roughly similar in climate to where you were in Costa Rica, with the main difference being the presence of the Andes not all that far away, and the snow and ice available there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2022 at 9:34 AM

      • Yes, it’s much like Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica, though we get a little more precipitación in the dry season. The Humbolt Current plays a large role in the rhythm of the seasons, if we have strong rains or mild ones. And yes, in about three hours, one can be in much higher altitudes, and a few more, we can all but touch the stars!

        • Speaking of mountains and stars, check out this poem by Yeats:

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 7, 2022 at 5:39 AM

          • Sorry I missed seeing this reply, but today is the perfect time to read and savor the beauty of the poem.. Ah, yes to be old and reflect… but thank goodness I’m not nodding by the fire – but this weekend
            trekking the ‘first mud’ of the new year and doing a bird census for a new area. One owner of a property (who had given permission to walk the property) brought a papaya to me — way up high where I was sitting (and sketching) and listening for bird calls.

            Playamart - Zeebra Designs

            January 16, 2022 at 11:30 AM

            • I’m pretty sure that when I’m out wandering in nature in central Texas no one will bring me a papaya. I hope you savored yours.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 16, 2022 at 12:19 PM

              • You made me laugh, but in Honduras that might have happened.

                Playamart - Zeebra Designs

                January 17, 2022 at 12:42 AM

                • True enough, but I was just getting started in photography when I lived in Honduras. I did make two return visits in the 1970s but I still don’t remember anyone offering me a papaya.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 17, 2022 at 8:16 AM

                • I actually laughed this morning when I went into the kitchen. I forgot to mention that a few days before in another location, a man who was soooo excited that someone anyone was there taking an inventory of the bird species, that he asked if I knew what huevos criollos were. Of course, free range eggs. He asked me to wait and then returned with a plastic bag with six or seven pale-hued eggs. So very sweet. Ecuadorians can be quite selfless.

                  Playamart - Zeebra Designs

                  January 18, 2022 at 12:11 PM

                • Happy laughter to you. I didn’t know what huevos criollos are. I don’t think people talked about “free-range” anything back in the 1960s and ’70s.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 18, 2022 at 12:15 PM

  5. I never tire of seeing hair ice needles!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 4, 2022 at 9:22 AM

    • Nor do I! In recent years I’ve met the frostweed ice challenge during our first couple of cold-season freezes. It’s the only kind of ice we can count on down here, unlike last February’s great (but otherwise horrible) chance to photograph the more familiar forms of ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2022 at 9:27 AM

  6. Buoyed by your post and our recent warm weather and rain followed by yesterday’s subfreezing temperature, I went to the location I find frostweed flowering here. No luck at all. Even though everything has been managed to the ground I still thought a stump or two might be frosting but nada. However, one of the YouTube photographers I follow found a wonderful example across the pond although not of frostweed..
    If it didn’t start in the right place go to 5:20.
    I’ll keep looking. Maybe I’ll have a better chance with a fungus infected dead tree limb.

    Steve Gingold

    January 4, 2022 at 3:18 PM

    • I’m sorry those promising conditions didn’t lead to you finding ice on your frostweed plants. I’ve read about the kind of ice in the video you linked to (which did start in the right right place). The main difference seems to be that with Texas frostweed the “hairs” tend to stay parallel to one another and form thin sheets of ice, whereas the “hairs” in the fungus-related phenomenon look like they more readily separate from one another. I do hope you still manage to find one or the other kind this winter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2022 at 6:30 PM

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