Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sadness of Frost Flowers

A Sadness of Frost Flowers
Click to enlarge
Looking out the window at Bull Creek after the first hard frost, I feel the excitement and sadness of seeing frost flowers.  White clumps around the base of dried stems. looking like windblown tissues along the road.  You have to bundle up and go outside to appreciate the delicate curls of ice, ribbons so thin that you can see your fingerprint through them.  They can vary in height and width, but never fail to create delicate curves.    
The immediate sadness comes when I realize that another year has passed.  It heralds the end of garden vegetables, the disappearance of many insects which have provoked wonder over the last year, the last of the native flowers and soon, the last of the colored leaves of fall.  But most of all, another year has passed, each one passing more swiftly.

Frost flowers are not commonly planted by by humans.*  Nature decides where and when they appear, the random acts of seed dispersal and neglect.  Frost weed (Verbisina virginica) and yellow ironweed (Verbisina alternafolia), their most common hosts, grow along the edges of our fields and roads, pretty enough when flowering but ignored when among much more dramatic and colorful competitors that most would call desirable.  They are the wardrobe assistants in nature's beauty pageant.  To my knowledge, few gardeners ever deliberately plant them.

Pealed stems- Click to enlarge
Once the "flowers" are gone, the dead plant base is left with its peeled epidermis.  Usually the next hard frost or two will create smaller flowers of narrow ice ribbons around the base as nature squeezes the last drop of liquid up from the roots.  Fear not, for Verbesina is one tough dude, it will be back in numbers next year.

Over time, people have invented collective nouns for groups of animals- a murder of crows, a gaze of raccoons.  There is a shorter list of collective nouns for plants- copse of trees, a rope of onions.
I would propose calling a cluster of these winter beauties a "sadness of frost flowers."

* Last months blog on Frost flowers mechanisms.

1 comment:

  1. I would really like to take some pictures of the frost flowers. Where are you located and are there a lot of the frost weed around there? I've been searching for a good place to take these pictures and haven't found too much.
    If you would, send me an email at melissalbeck@yahoo.com letting me know. Thanks :)