Weather can produce many amazing and beautiful things. From rainbows to cloud formations to snowflakes, the wonderful components of nature seem to come together at just the right moments to create spectacular moments for us to enjoy.
What Are Frost Flowers?
One of nature’s most fascinating formations is that of the fragile and elusive frost flower. Frost flowers are not really flowers, so you can’t plant them, nor can you necessarily plan on when you’ll see them “bloom” because weather conditions have to be just right. What a first glance may look like white feathers resting between blades of grass are actually ice crystals that have formed during the cold of night.
How Frost Flowers Form
Frost flowers form outside of plant stems right around the time of the first frost, when the air is cold but the ground is still moist. As the temperature in the air drops, water in the plant’s stems begins to freeze and causes microscopic cracks. As water vapor exits these cracks, it freezes and creates delicate petals of ice. Because water is continually being drawn up into the plant stem from the unfrozen ground, it is constantly being pushed out of the cracks and freezing, causing the curling ribbons or “petals” of the flower to form. This is a slow process of water vapor exiting and freezing during the night.
How wide the crack in the stem is determines the shape of the ribbon of ice. If the crack is long, the ribbons are wider. Smaller cracks produce thinner ribbons. These ribbons can take on many interesting and unusual shapes.
Which Plants Form Frost Flowers?
Not every plant will form a frost flower; they are mainly seen in the thicker stems of annuals, such as wingstem plants, and occasionally in wood. They are more common in tall grassy areas that do not often get mowed.
If you’d like to try to find a frost flower, it’s best to go searching early in the morning hours, before the sun rises (because the warmth of the sun will melt them very quickly). The temperature of the air must be freezing or below freezing but the ground must still be unfrozen.
If you see a frost flower, sadly, you cannot pick it and take it home. The ice petals are so delicate, the warmth of your hand will quickly melt it.
Spotting A Frost Flower in the Wild
Came across several frost flowers while my wife and I were hiking in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas [February 13. 2021]. Didn’t quite know what they were or how they came to be, but found your article on them when we got down from the mountain. Thanks for the info!— Kevin Robinson
To see a frost flower forming and melting, watch this time-lapse video!
Have you ever seen a frost flower? Share in the comments below and your photos on our Facebook page!
Main blog image by Glen Conner, State Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky, NOAA/National Weather Service