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Fascinating Frost Flowers

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Fascinating Frost Flowers

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.

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.

Frost Flowers

Images by Glen Conner, State Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky, NOAA/National Weather Service

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.

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!

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8 comments

1 Laurie { 11.16.14 at 8:31 am }

I took a bunch of pictures of “Frost Flowers” the other day – the field next to our yard was “littered” with them! So unusual and amazing!

2 Dina { 11.14.14 at 6:14 pm }

I took some great pictures of some of these in Southern Missouri. Took a while to figure out what they were. It did look like Kleenex.

3 Skye { 11.13.14 at 5:26 pm }

I discovered these just yesterday and I am in awe of the beauty.

4 Marilyn { 11.13.14 at 5:47 am }

have seen them here in the hill country several times. The field looks like it was littered with Kleenex. Thanks for sharing the info on them

5 Janie { 11.12.14 at 2:25 pm }

I’ve not seen a front flower before. They’re beautiful and reading about how they are formed is very interesting. Thank you for this article! I’m sharing it on Facebook.

6 Jeannie { 11.12.14 at 12:26 pm }

I saw them often growing up in rural central Missouri. They are amazingly beautiful and delicate.

7 Cathey Thomas { 11.12.14 at 9:35 am }

We get them on our Frostweeds every time there’s a hard freeze. The little bursts of ice look kind of like white feathers wrapped around the bottoms of the stems near the base. Other names for Frostweed are White crownbeard, Iceplant, Iceweed, Virginia crownbeard, Indian tobacco, Richweed, or Squaw-weed. Just fyi. Wish I could post a picture!

8 Deb { 11.12.14 at 9:03 am }

Wish I could see one!

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