Flowers That Aren’t

Have you ever seen a “frost flower?” I think I might have seen them in the woods when I lived in Quebec, but I haven’t seen any since I moved to RI.

a frost flower

Frost flowers need specific conditions in order to form: wet soil, followed by clear night skies and a drop in temperature to 28F or lower. They form in the fall on the stems of plants when water supercools inside the plant stems. Capillary action draws moisture up through the stems and that moisture freezes, splitting the stems and freezing on contact with the cold air. As more water is forced out of the stem and freezes, the accumulated ice forms ribbons that twist into “petals” and flower-like shapes.

Some plants are known for producing frost flowers. Ironweed (vernonia altissima) and dittany (cunila mariani) are two of them. You won’t see this phenomenon once winter sets in, because frozen water won’t travel up the plant stems. (I thought these were so unique that I’d share them with you anyway.)

Not surprisingly, frost flowers are so delicate that they usually shatter when touched. However, as morning temperatures begin to rise, they are more likely to melt and disappear before we ever get to see, let alone touch them.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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6 Responses to Flowers That Aren’t

  1. herbdoc says:



  2. Wendy says:

    oooooh, I’ve never seen this before. What a cool phenomenon! It IS very pretty.


    • dirtynailz says:

      Wendy, maybe you could find frost flowers where you live. I think it’s a question of being at the right place at the right time.


  3. grant says:

    i saw a bunch of these behind a neighbor’s house growing off ironweed i think, here in tennessee, usa. it was very cool and weird.


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