Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Down to around freezing overnight

with 38 comments


As recently as this past week I was still finding a few flowers on frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in Austin. The picture above is from the drizzly morning of December 10th.

The common name for this species comes not from its white flowers but from one of the strangest phenomena in botany. By the time the frost begins settling overnight on the lands where frostweed grows, almost all of these plants have gone to seed. Although each stalk stands there unappealingly as it dries out, the first good freeze can cause it to draw underground water up into its base. Now for the strange trick: the exterior of the part of the stalk near the ground splits open as it extrudes freezing water laterally, and that process produces thin sheets of ice that curl and fold around the broken stalk.

Yesterday morning the temperature in Austin got down to around freezing, so off I went to the stand of frostweed plants in Great Hills Park I’ve been relying on for a decade to produce ice. They didn’t disappoint me. Here are three frostweed ice portraits:



As always with a familiar subject, I worked to get pictures that look
at least somewhat different from the ones I’ve taken over the years.



All of these fit that description.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman






Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2022 at 4:30 AM

38 Responses

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  1. amazing shots


    December 19, 2022 at 5:01 AM

    • I had to lie on the ground for many of the pictures I took of the ice, given that it forms near the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2022 at 7:13 AM

      • cold shoot but worth it I hope


        December 19, 2022 at 7:17 AM

        • Definitely worth it. As much as I’m sensitive to cold, over the last few several years of photographing frostweed ice I’ve found that dressing warmly and keeping busy has kept me from feeling chilled.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2022 at 7:27 AM

  2. As ever, I am quite envious that you have these opportunities for this neat phenomenon. I don’t know for sure whether the frostweed species we have here performs like this because the location I find them gets mowed to the ground mid summer. It’s unlikely I could prevail upon them to spare the stems as the focus is water conservation and runoff into the reservoir so anything else is at the best secondary.

    Steve Gingold

    December 19, 2022 at 6:29 AM

    • Could you gather seeds and plant them in your yard?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2022 at 7:15 AM

      • Pretty sure that we are not allowed to do that on state property but it would be easy early some morning. Not sure if any seed businesses sell that species.

        Steve Gingold

        December 19, 2022 at 4:52 PM

  3. You never miss an opportunity to take great pictures, Steve. Nothing holds you back, rain or shine or frost, while others vegetate in front of their TV.

    Peter Klopp

    December 19, 2022 at 9:35 AM

    • While I do my share of screen watching, too, I do push myself to go out whenever I feel there are worthwhile pictures to be had. Experience tells me it’s virtually impossible to go out in nature for a while and not find something photogenic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2022 at 2:04 PM

  4. I never knew about his phenomenon until I started learning about it from you. Thank you for adding more fascinating frostweed fotos to the memory bank.


    December 19, 2022 at 11:54 AM

  5. You’ve won the prize ribbon for these fascinating shots of ice ribbons.

    Robert Parker

    December 19, 2022 at 12:48 PM

  6. The last images remind of the ribbon candy Santa used to put in my stocking when I was a girl!


    December 19, 2022 at 1:45 PM

  7. You expose amazing new worlds to me with both your photos and your commentary. Thank you! 🙂🎄

    • You’re welcome and you’re welcome. I lived my first 23 years in Austin before becoming aware of frostweed ice. Now I approach the end of every year waiting to see it again. I never expected or even wanted to add sociopolitical commentary to a blog about nature photography, but after the country went as crazy as it did in 2020, I felt I couldn’t sit silently by.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2022 at 2:21 PM

  8. The green and gold highlights in these images are special; I don’t remember seeing them before. I wonder if extended warmth prior to the arrival of freezing weather made a difference. The only time I’ve seen frost flowers like this, the stems already were quite dry and colorless.

    I was sure you’d be able to get some photos. There was quite a band of counties above us in that freezing line, but we’re still in the 40s and 50s. We may hit 70F on Thursday before the front gets here. By Thursday night, we’re projected to drop to 22, with a high on Friday of 31. I’m not going to roam too far in those conditions, but there are a few places like Armand Bayou where there are patches of frostweed. I hate the cold, but if those temperatures verify and it stays dry, I may make a run at it.


    December 19, 2022 at 7:22 PM

    • Because many of the frostweed plants are alive, even if brown on the outside, the inside of a stalk remains green. When freezing causes a stalk to split open, that inner green gets revealed. I looked back through some of the frostweed ice pictures I’ve posted and found one taken on a New Year’s Day that shows a lot of green:

      The frostweed, yes.

      I’m like you in disliking the cold, which is a big reason I moved south from New York. The last few times I’ve gone out photographing frostweed ice I’ve dressed warmly, with multiple layers, and have noticed that even after a couple of hours I didn’t feel chilled. Of course yesterday the temperature was not quite down to freezing at the beginning and probably 10° warmer at the end. Our forecast for Friday is similar to yours, below freezing all day, and I’m debating whether I’ll try for a second round of frostweed ice pictures when it’s significantly colder. I was happy with a bunch of the photographs I got yesterday, so it’s not as if I need more again so soon. On the other hand, it’s just half a mile away, and no one says I have to stay out a long time.

      In your case, though, it would be a first, and therefore maybe worth pushing yourself to do, even with a significantly longer travel time. A thermos with something hot to eat or drink might help.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2022 at 10:27 PM

      • As with so much in life, it’s a question of will rather than of knowledge. Since I work outdoors, I have the wardrobe and a whole range of preferred techniques for staying warm, but the inclination to go back out into nasty conditions isn’t always there. I’ll scout for some plants today or tomorrow, and if I can find a nice stand that I don’t have to search for Friday morning, I may give it a shot.


        December 20, 2022 at 7:26 AM

        • Ah yes: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Finding a stand of frostweed close to hope is the way to go. Happy hunting.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 20, 2022 at 8:06 AM

  9. Excellent!


    December 20, 2022 at 1:16 AM

  10. Superb photos. I have been looking at images of brooches lately, especially Lalique brooches, and, thus, I look at the first photo and think that arrangement would make a beautiful brooch. When I look at the other images I think, “How Lalique-esque is the frozen frostweed plant.” I also think what a great photographer you are!


    December 21, 2022 at 10:56 PM

    • “Superb” is fine with me, thanks. On and off throughout my adult life I’ve immersed myself in photography, with the past two decades being “on.” You’re now in a similarly intense brooch period, where it seems many of the things you look at turn into brooches. Perhaps you could learn how to make those a reality, either by crafting them yourself or working with someone who already knows the craft.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2022 at 7:15 AM

    • I became aware of Lalique when I was immersed in Art Nouveau in the 1990s. Here’s a little about him:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2022 at 7:19 AM

  11. The frostweed is beautiful, Steve. We are all iced in here this morning. No snow, but conditions are treacherous for walking.

    Lavinia Ross

    December 23, 2022 at 11:11 AM

    • Hooray for frostweed! This morning the temperature here dropped to 15° so I made myself go back to the frostweed to see if any of the plants had done their ice thing again. Only a few had, but it was enough for some good pictures—and relatively quick ones, given the cold. From my first photograph to my last one this morning was only 20 minutes, compared to the almost two hours on the outing that produced the ice pictures in this post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 23, 2022 at 11:19 AM

      • It dropped into the 20s here. It is still foggy and misting, and I am watching the ice on everything grow.

        Lavinia Ross

        December 23, 2022 at 11:27 AM

        • I hope there’s a safe path where you can walk out for closer looks at some of that ice. When the horrendous deep freeze hit us in February 2021, I borrowed Eve’s trekking poles to walk the half mile on ice-covered sidewalks and streets to get to Great Hills Park. Without those poles it would have been too treacherous.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 23, 2022 at 11:34 AM

          • The temperature has risen to 34 as of this afternoon, probably about as warm as it is going to get today. Sounds of dripping everywhere. We’ll see what the night brings. The forecast changes frequently.

            Lavinia Ross

            December 23, 2022 at 5:10 PM

  12. […] frostweed (Verbesina virginica) colony in Great Hills Park. This time only a few plants had done the ice trick, and it differed from last Sunday by mostly not scrolling around each plant’s stalk but […]

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