Ice Formations on Salvia and Vinca in Fall 2008

Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus  Geography-Geology Department      Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61704

This is one of a collection of web pages showing what are sometimes called Ice Flowers, Frost Flowers and Ice Ribbons growing on vertical plant stems.  On this page I am showing images of ice that grew on stems of Salvia and Vinca that grew in my yard.  In 2007 I grew White Crownbeard Verbesina virginica in my yard and as anticipated I had ice growing from those stems.  But, one day we also noted a patch of white in a flower bed and checked it out.  By golly, there was ice on a dead stem of Salvia.  My wife had planted Salvia because it looks good.

So in summer 2008 we bought three varieties of Salvia to enjoy the flowers and to see if they would produce ice in late fall.  We bought Red and Purple Salvia that looked alike as plants and Victoria Blue Salvia, that has a slightly different form.  We put the plants in different places and enjoyed their beauty during the summer. 

Above is a collection of Red plants.  An over abundance of rabbits is the reason for the fence, evident in the photos.  By mid-November the red had faded and there was ice splitting the stem.

This is not a very exciting ice formation, but I am interested in learning why ice forms on a few selected species of plants.  As such we need to learn on which plants it does form.  I have looked at many plant stems and very few species have such ice.  So, this image of ice is of value simply because it shows the stems of Salvia support the growth of ice.

Below is a more dramatic display of ice from a Red or Purple Salvia stem.  Of course, this was taken closer up.

This display of ice growing from the stem is similar to the displays of ice from some of the stems of White Crownbeard Verbesina virginica. 

Below is an attractive flower of ice growing out from the base of a stem of Salvia.  I do not know if this was from the Red or Purple plants.  In terms of plant form there seems to be no difference between the two.  Likewise, the nature of the ice was similar between the two. 


In the ice flower above, note how the stem maintains its basic form and the ice grows out between the thin slits. 

Below is ice growing from a stem of Vinca.  This is a very unique display.  Sorry to say I do not have any photos of Vinca.  I did not anticipate seeing ice on these stems so I did not focus on them when they were in bloom.  This photo was taken in mid-November.  The leaves of the Vinca have been zapped by the cold but the leaves of a neighboring plant appear to be healthy and green.      

At the base of the Vinca stem below we find a flower of ice.  This occurred 3 days later than the ice in the photo above. 


The example of ice below is quite similar to that above.  In both cases the size of the ice formation is 1-2 inches or 2-5 cm wide.     

Now I know that Vinca supports the growth of ice and next year I will pay more attention to the plant.  Also, note that you will not be able to see such ice formations if you cut off or pull the stems after the plants flowers.  So, keep the plants in the ground and look for ice.

The Victoria Blue Salvia

My wife and I liked the Blue Salvia and bought a couple of boxes of the plants.  I put six in one large patch near some trees and put two in an open area at the SW corner of the house.  These two had ground cloth around them and were covered over with large, round gravel. 

Throughout November I had ice on Red and Purple Salvia while the stems of White Crownbeard produced many interesting displays.  But nothing on the Victoria Blue Salvia.  Then in December we had snow that stayed around for many days.  In late December we had very warm temperatures and heavy rain that melted all of the snow.  On December 28 it was again below freezing and I found a little ice on the stems of the plants that had it in November.

But, on that day I noticed the soil had needle ice and crunched in places as I walked around the yard.  And, lo, there was ice on the stems of the Blue Salvia.  Why now and not before?  Good question. 

In many cases the ice formations on the six stems in the large patch were similar to that on the Red and Purple Salvia.  But, the example below shows an occurrence of ribbons that are quite unique as well as ice splitting the stem and growing along the stem.

Those two plants of Victoria Blue Salvia that were planted at the SW corner of the house never grew very tall, probably in part because they needed more water in that sunny area, and my hose does not reach that far. 

But, in late December they produced some small, intricate formations of ice.  These ribbons of ice below extending out from the stem are so thin we can see through the ice ribbon to make out the rock behind it.  The total width of this display of ice in the photo is about 2.4 inches or 6 cm. 

I had trouble getting good positions to photograph these intricate displays of ice because the foilage got in the way.  It was obvious the top of the stems would produce no ice so I cut off the stems about 3 inches / 7 cm above the ground.  The two photos below were taken the next day showing ice on the cut-off stems. 

In the photo below the ice grew out from and curled around the stems.  There appear to be three separate growths of ice, all with similar form.  With no dead stems above I was able to get in a better position.  These three pieces of ice measure about 2 inches or 5 cm across, in total. 

Below we see a beautiful flower of ice with four petals.  This is perhaps 1.6 inches or 4 cm across but it is well formed and clean.  To the left is a similar ribbon but not as well formed and to the back is the familiar form of ice extending along the stem.  These occurred on December 30, 2008 -- a very attractive way to bring to close a year of seeing ice in many forms.

But, the growth of ice on plants continued into 2009.  It was smaller but not worthy of web space in my opinion.  Then big snows hit and the ground remailed frozen and there were no growths of ice from plant stems of any kind.

In late January and into February there were periods of warmth where the ground thawed.  I became fascinated with the needle ice that formed in my yard and the growth of ice on a few rocks.  But, some days if I looked closely I could see very small formations of ice at the base of plant stems.  These were not worthy of a photograph for there was little to be seen, but the ice was there. 

Thank goodness for the Internet and digital cameras for they let us exchange information about these attractive ice formations.  Much of what I have learned about ice formations is because people send me email messages with photos.  I will be happy to correspond with you if you have experiences I should know about. 

Feel free to contact me at  if you see any ice of this nature in your early morning outings. See for my master page on ice flowers / ice ribbons


One of the many web pages of Dr. Jim Carter






















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