Thursday, October 11, 2012

Do You Grow Frost Flowers?

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Have you ever heard of "frost flowers"? If so you had to get out early in the morning during the first few hard frosts. Frost flowers, a.k.a. ice ribbons, are formed by super cooled water being extruded through plant stems and freezing the minute they hit the cold air. They are beautiful, delicate and transient, destined to disappear when the temperature rises – or before – if the sun hits them for a few minutes.

"Frost flower", also called "ice ribbons", occur regularly on the stems of White Crownbeard, Verbesina virginica, Marsh Fleabane. Pluchea odorata and ditany, Cunila origanoides. These are native species found in much of the eastern US,  usually found in disturbed soil and along roadsides.

There are a few vague reports of finding frost flowers on other plants, mainly coming from Europe.  I am trying to compile a list of other plant species that produce frost flowers, no matter how small the "blossoms." It is important to be able to identify the parent plants which may otherwise be unrecognizable late in the season. If you are a gardener, you likely know your plants and likely have a wide variety in your plantings.

Here is where you come in:
Visit your garden early on the morning of the first or second hard frost (below freezing through the night at temperatures below 28 degrees Farenheit) and look around the base of your plants. If you see ice ribbons on other new plants, identify the plant, preferably by genus and species and if possible photograph the frost flowers, if even with your phone. Then email me with your findings at  Your findings and pictures will be posted on a new blog at anonymously or with attribution as you chose.

We are involving Missouri Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and Friends of the Garden as well as any other interested person.  I have been in frequent contact with several experts from Illinois and Texas who have published on frost flowers.  Their papers are found below, along with some frost flower pictures.

Your reports of your discoveries can expand our knowledge of these mysterious frost flowers.  Consider: no planting, fertilizing or watering... Just an extra cup of coffee and a warm coat for a 5 minute brisk walk in your own garden. And all in the name of science!

Check out these resources for further information on frost flowers as well as the resources page:
Dr. James Carter references:
Frost Flowers
Ice or Frost Flowers?- James Carter
JR Carter at Illinois State/ice/diurnal/
Dr.Robert Harms

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