Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Frost(weed)y Morning

One look at the shriveled dogwood leaves in my backyard garden this morning revealed that frost had happened at last.  It's certainly not the latest date for first frost around here, but somehow it seemed a long time coming this year. Eager to see if the Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) had sent out its curls of frozen vapor,   I hurried up to Mud Pond at Moreau to try to see these frosty "petals"  before the rising sun could cause them to vanish into thin air.

The morning was cold and clear, and the sun had already cleared the hills to the east when I arrived at Mud Pond.  A thin sheet of ice extended out from the shore, leaving just a small patch of open water for two pairs of Hooded Mergansers to paddle around on.

A dusting of crystalline snow lay over all, spangling the fuzzy leaves of this small Common Mullein rosette.

When frost comes this late, the leaves of the young oaks have already turned brown and fallen to the ground.

Last year, when frost first arrived in mid-October, the leaves of the Bear Oak babies still displayed the brilliant colors of autumn, made especially vivid when outlined in silvery frost.  No such brilliance could I find this year.

But I sure did find lots of Frostweed!  Frostweed prefers an open, dry, sandy habitat, exactly the conditions that exist under the powerlines that cut across the northern end of Mud Pond.  That's where I found cluster after cluster of Frostweed stems, each exhibiting curling clouds of frozen vapor at its base.

The curls are created when freezing temperatures cause the stems to split along their length.  As the plants' internal moisture escapes through these split stems, it freezes solid in the frigid air.

The frozen mist has a frothy texture and is so delicate it breaks at a touch and quickly melts as the sun begins to warm the air around it.   It looks like puffs of frozen smoke.  The Frostweed plants will continue to exude these vaporous curls during freezing temperatures until the plants are completely depleted of their moisture.

I always delight in finding these frost curls, no matter how many times I have seen them before.  I also delight in how Little Bluestem Grass, which abounds in the same open habitat as the Frostweed, catches the light in the feathery inflorescences along the stems.  Enchanting!  Looks like tiny fairies flitting through a miniature forest.  This was a lovely morning to be up with the rising sun.


threecollie said...

Magic! Thank you for sharing.

The Furry Gnome said...

That has got to be one of the most unusual plants I've ever heard of!

June said...

Frozen fragile cotton candy.

Momo said...

Thank you for sharing more remarkable jewels of nature!

catharus said...


Cynthia McWilliams said...

Fascinating..had never heard of "Frostweed"..We had the latest frost on Long Island in 32 years..

Ron Gamble said...

Check out this link,
and associated links within it about needle ice, hair ice, ice flowers and all. Fascinating. I saw the 27Nov14 post at and thought, "I've seen this before in your blog". (I hope the links work in this comment format)