Ice Ribbons, Ice Flowers, Frost Flowers, Castles of Ice as shown by others

by

Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus

Geography-Geology Department

Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790

 

 
 

I wrote this page early in my search for information on Ice Flowers.  Over the years I have learned much as shown on my master page.  But, I am keeping this page because it has some interesting links.  I will try to keep this page up to date, but in some cases I need your help to update me on links. 

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Dr. Bruce Means in northern Florida, writing in third person, reflects back on his interests in ice flowers with "On a cold day before sunup in late December 1976, Bruce Means discovered some fantastic ice formations growing out of the dead stems of White Crownbeard, a dogfennel-like perennial plant.  No doubt hundreds of other people have seen these beautiful works of winter ice art, but Means seems to be the first scientist to realize how special these ice formations are.  He is studying how they form, on which plants they occur worldwide, and whether there is any possible adaptive significance for what he has coined as "ice flowers"."

Means shows nine photos on his web page , and references to his articles about these ice formations.  Means had a brief article on ice flowers in the November 2004 issue of National Geographic.

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In 2000 Betty Swihart published Frost Flowers in the Missouri Conservationist. When I started searching for information on ice flowers this article was referenced on many sites.  The original link disappeard and now it is available at a new home.  She wrote:  "Although the name is colorfully descriptive, a frost flower is really neither "frost" nor "flower," but layers of ice squeezed from the stem of a plant. . . . Frost flowers occur in many parts of the world and all across the state of Missouri. However, only a few species of plants produce frost flowers, and the formations never occur in exactly the same manner from one year to the next, or even from one night to the next. That is what makes finding them so exciting and wonderful. . . . When I was a little girl, I found my first frost flowers in an abandoned woodlot. Since no one ever ventured there but me, I just knew the ice blossoms scattered across the forest floor had to be the work of elves and fairies. On frosty Ozark mornings, I choose to believe the fairies are still at work." 

No one questions the fairies but we now know this is not ice extruded from the stems but water moving to the surface of the stem and growing through the process of ice segregation. 

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The naturealmanac site has a page showing examples of ice flowers sent in by others.  The entry for 2004 has four photos, one by a mystery person and three by Steve Haskins.  In the 2005 section Mary Alice Beer has four photos of ice on Dittany and one with ice on White Crownbeard, all from her yard in Arkansas.  She has given descriptive names to the ice formations like we identify clouds.  And, Rhona Caruso of Missouri has three photos of ice on ironweed Veronia.  These three occurrences are much different from the other photos on this page. 

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Forrest M. Mims III in south Texas has a gallery entitled:  Frost Castles on Geronimo Creek, Texas.  In two relatively small boxes and a block of text he tells about these ice formations on White Crownbeard.  In the top box he cycles through 20 photos related to the topic. In an animated loop in the bottom box we see layers of ice unfolding as temperatures rise above freezing.  He also has a time-lapse video of ice flowers growing and decaying on YouTube.

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The Weather Doctor, aka Dr. Keith C. Heidorn, has one page devoted to ice flowers .  And, included on this page he shows two photos of ice growing from a metal fence.  This is where I got my introduction to the interesting photos of Sheryl Terris.

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Mary Alice Beer of Arkansas has posted many photos to her Public Gallery .  She notes she has seen these for many years and has albums going back to 2007.  She has a nice collection of Dittany and White Crownbeard in her yard which makes viewing very convenient.  Oh, you can purchase prints of her images.

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The Watersheds.org site of the southern Missouri Ozarks has four very attractive photos and a discussion of how the ice forms, attributable to Peter Callaway.  In a few short words he has a good description of the process although he never mentions Ice Segregation. 

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In his lengthy Cloudland Journal for November 2003, Tim Ernst shares observations about his Arkansas environment.  In his entry for 11/24/03 he talks about going out on a cold morning to find these frost flowers in his garden where he often finds them on ". . . the first really good cold snap of the season."  He notes "I can always count on this spot for the best frost flowers" but they were not here this day.  On 11/25 the flowers appeared and the author has six photos of those frost flowers.  There are some beautiful images here.  The author notes that within about 100 yards there were more than 150 frost flowers.  Interestingly, he observed that it was not as cold this day as it was the day before.  As of 2013 the original link to the Journal of November 2003 is not available, but Tim Ernst has a web site with many images and I suspect many of those show Ice Flowers in Arkansas.

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The Missouri Native Plant Society previously had a page showing ice flowers.  That old link is now broken.  Perhaps on their master page you can find the sets of photos by two different photographers I wrote about before.  "Wendy Morrison has three photos of ribbons of ice extending out from Verbesina virginica .  There is a discussion of how these formed by George Yatskievych followed by four photos of frost flowers taken by John Oliver of St. Louis in 2005. The photo on the January page of the 2006 Natural Events Calendar from the Missouri Department of Conservation has a beautiful image of a frost flower blooming.  This 10 X 14 inch print shows a complex of ribbons from more than one stalk.  The photo belongs to John D. Miller.  Sorry to say I cannot point you to this photo on the web."  If anyone can provide me a better link, please send it to me.  

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The Ground Truth Investigations link goes to a page with 16 thumbnail photos of Frost Flowers.  This page is the first of three such pages showing 48 images in all.  Clicking on a photo brings up a large image. Then clicking on next image you can go through all 48 images.  A few of these images are similar to what I have seen, but many of these formations are taller than wide and extend 20 or more centimeters up the stem (more than a foot).  Many of these ice formations are quite massive.  In some photos we see one stem with a mass of ice and nearby stems with no ice.  Why?  And, some of these photos show the rupture of stems very clearly.  These images are from Texas on December 15, 2004 on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica ).  The photographer is identified as Tim Jones.  Note: as of 2013 I am not surprised by the size of some ice flowers and I now see the stems were not ruptured but the outer bark of the stem has been ripped apart by the growth of the ice. 

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http://rurality.blogspot.com/2005_02_01_rurality_archive.html    In a collection of many photos the author has two small photos, which are good, and a few paragraphs of discussion.  These appear to be from Rurality, Alabama.  The entry for these photos is labeled February 18, 2005.  If that is the date these were observed it is the first time I have seen these occur in mid to late winter.  That means the plant stems have not decayed significantly over the winter.  Note: as of 2013 I am well aware that ice flowers can occur into February, especially in the southern States.  

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Dave's Garden  has a plant file entry for Verbesina virginica and calls it Frostweed, Frost Flower, Indian Tobacco and Tickweed.  There is very good information about the range of this plant and it use as an ornamental and as a wildflower.  They note it is found or used in Florida and Texas.  There are 22 photos of the plant, two of which show the formation of ice.

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The entry for White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) at http://2bnthewild.com/plants/H26.htm   has one photo with a good description of the plant.  It notes the plant is also known as Tickweed.  And, they describe the process correctly noting the dead plants "continue to pull moisture from the ground and extrude beautiful ice formations."  As of 2013 I know that plants do not extrude ice.  Stems are not strong enough to contain ice and have it be extruded.  It grows by the process of ice segregation.  

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Ingrid Karklins crafted a poem entitled  "Verbesina virginica " dedicated to the frost flowers as she viewed them in Austin, TX.   The title refers to the plant on which the ice is growing.    

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Dave Boesch pointed me to a good display at http://balinsky.com/gallery/Frostweed    These seem to be from the Austin, TX, area.  Later he directed me to another site which is no long in service.

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Oh, I found a good web site for what someone calls ice flowers but these are photos of the work of Jack Frost on windows.  The images are beautiful but they are very different from the ice ribbons or ice flowers referenced above. 

How nice it is that there are beautiful flowers to be seen when the temperature drops below freezing, whether in the woods or on the window.  We do not have to wait until spring to see flowers--look around.

And what are these things called?  There is no standardization of terms but I think Ice Flowers is the most logical name.  But, as noted above many other names are used for these products of Ice Segregation on plant stems.  Many of these names are based on the appearence of these things out in a field or tucked in a garden.   

Please send your comments to me, as well as any links to other pages that I do not know about.  Thank you,

Dr. Jim Carter at  jrcarter@ilstu.edu

 
 

one of the pages of Dr. James R. Carter