Ozark Outdoors

The bloom of the mysterious Frost Flower has not been lost 

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It may seem a bit late to be writing about the mysteries of a winter that never really  got off the ground. At least not in the Ozarks. But then again, in the words of Archie McNally, “one never knows, do one.”

We wanted to give you the rest of the story on the photo that stirred up a lot of conversation at various events such as the Lawn & Garden Show, the Home Show, Women’s Show, and several other important gatherings of gardeners and observers of nature. Indeed, we owe you our apology for not telling you more about this rarity. in the first place.


Frost Flower

Frost Flower

When Dr. Bob Kipfer sent along his series of photos of the Frost Flower, our first thought was to share it with all of you. Our second was to chase him down as soon we learned he and Barbara were heading back to their beautiful garlic plantation along Bull Creek.

What we should have realized even on deadline was how many of you were as fascinated as we were to learn these delicate ice crystals form only on certain plants in certain conditions. Then, almost as if a wise forest fairy (as opposed to a gnarly garden gnome) was protecting the secret, they disappear instantly in the morning sunlight. It seems you have to get up pretty early to see a frost flower, so instead of doing our own research on the frost flower, we simply marveled in awe.

Ever the scientific observer, here are excerpts from Bob’s final flowery report to friends: “Last week we had the 40th blossoming of frost flowers on the same observed V. virginica stalks. By now,these were more frost buds than flowers, dense little ice extrusions around the stalk base. “One of our pictures, was the cover of the February/March issue of GREENE Magazine, (We live in Greene county.)

“We tried an experiment of watering one plant base with concentrated red food coloring with no change in the frost flower color. We intend to use Rit clothing dye next year to see if the more concentrated color helps. “We had a long dry late February and early March. I watered two stalk bases heavily and the next blooms on them seemed larger, although I didn’t have an accurate scale to actually measure the volume in comparisons. “Next fall we are going to remind members of the Missouri Native Plant Society and Master Gardeners to be on the lookout for Frost Flowers with the first freezes and report what plants they encounter them on. We will ask GREENE magazine for an article to help spread the word.”

Consider the word spread, with more to come.

Here’s a bit more on frost flowers:

Frost flowers depend on a freezing weather condition, which must occur when the ground is not already frozen. As water always does, the sappy moisture in the stem of the plants expands, causing long, thin cracks to form along the length of the stem. Water then moves through the cracks and freezes upon contact with the air.

The more water that can be drawn through the cracks, the more ice layers form from the stem, creating a thin "petal."

 In woody plants, the freezing water is squeezed through the pores of the plant, forming long thin strings of ice that look uncannily like hair ( hence the term,“hair ice,” or even “frost beard.” Formations occur in various plants as far south as Mexico, where nighttime temperatures can be very nippy along the Pecos.
The icy petals of frost flowers are so delicate they will break at the lightest touch. They usually melt when exposed to sunlight and are usually visible only in the early morning or in shaded areas.

Plants that often form frost flowers are white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica), commonly called frostweed, yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia), and Helianthemum canadense. They may also form on the fallen branches of conifers. In various formations, they may also be referred to as frost castles, ice castles, ice blossoms, or crystallofolia.

Other variations include ice wool or feather frost.

Most of us have witnessed a beautiful hoar frost, an accumulation of ice crystals that can light up the moonlit night when they form on just about anything. However, hoar frosts are derived from moisture in air, not plants.

Leave it to Jack Frost and Mother Nature to join forces in ways that can be both beautiful and awe inspiring. Having experienced the brutality of winter in all manner of ice storms, black ice, freezing rain, sleet and the rest, we’ll take a frost flower any morning.

Next question: why is our river birch weeping? More on that next time perhaps.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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