Saturday, November 6, 2021

Finally! A Fine Frosty Morning!

Friday, November 5. Could this be the latest day recorded for first hard frost in Saratoga County? It's the latest I can remember, anyway, and it dawned a perfect day to go look for Frostweed doing the very thing that suggested this native wildflower's vernacular name. (Crocanthemum canadense is its scientific name.) The clear sky overnight, quiet wind, and plunging temperatures had provided for optimal radiational cooling, causing the Frostweed's slender stems to freeze and split, allowing the plants' internal moisture to extrude in frothy curls of ice. But that clear sky also meant the bright morning sun would soon be rapidly melting those fragile curls, so I promptly headed over to Moreau Lake State Park.  When I arrived at a powerline clearcut there that I knew to be home to many Frostweed plants, I was relieved to see stands of Sweet Fern still whitened by glittering crystals, a sight that suggested my search for Frostweed curls would not be in vain. 

Frost-covered Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)

If I needed further reassurance, the brittle needles of frost heaving up from the sandy powerline path convinced me that freezing cold still reigned down close to the ground, despite a morning sun warming my shoulders by now.

Even the fine-textured hoarfrost that coated these baby oak leaves was still intact, muting the colors of the leaves and outlining their shapes in sparkling crystals.

Baby oak leaves (Querqus species)

And there it was! Frostweed doing its frosty thing, and in numbers I had never seen before at this site!

Canada Frostweed patch (Crocanthemum canadense)

Here's a closer look at how the frothy ice curls around the split stems.

And as fragile as those icy curls are,  it was still so cold,  they had not yet begun to melt, even as the sun rose higher and found some of them.

The curls seemed much more frothy, this year, as if they had been formed from vapor instead of liquid. They looked like frozen clouds.

With this particular specimen, the icy mass appeared to have been formed from hair-fine threads and reminded me of cotton candy.

Once I had satisfied my quest for finding the Frostweed curls, I looked around the site for other icy transformations. The frost looked particularly pretty decorating these crimson oak leaves.

Leaves of a baby oak (Quercus sp.)

Whole swaths of reddening Dewberry leaves were outlined in silver.

Northern Dewberry (Rubus flagellaris)

The deep-red leaves of Lowbush Blueberry were fluffy with icy fur.

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Vast patches of Common Haircap Moss, punctuated with tiny tawny fungi,  were sparkling with icy crystals.

Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune), fungus species unknown

A wee little clump of British Soldiers Lichen added a flash of bright red to this patch of frosted Haircap Moss.

British Soldiers Lichen (Cladonia cristatella)

Pretty clusters of Fan Clubmoss bore deep-green cedar-like flattened branches tipped with white.

Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum), also known as Ground Cedar

Also tipped with white frost were the rounder branches of this Tree Clubmoss, which appeared as if exploding from a patch of deep-pink Sphagnum Moss.

Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium dendroideum), over pink-colored Sphagnum Moss (species unknown)

The branches of Running Clubmoss are often tipped with white hairs, which suggested its alternative vernacular name of Wolf's Claw Clubmoss.  But today, all the hair-fine leaves were whitened by frost.

Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum)

When I first arrived at this site this day, all the needles of small sapling pines were whitened by hoarfrost. But as the sun-warmed morning wore on, each needle became tipped with sparkling drops of melted ice.

As I prepared to leave, the mounting sun's rays had begun to warm the formerly shaded Frostweed curls.  But rather than dripping water, the frothy ice just seemed to dissipate into the air, reinforcing my impression that the curls might have been formed from freezing mist instead of liquid sap. I wonder if anyone has ever filmed the process as the curls were forming. That would be something to see!


The Furry Gnome said...

What an amazing plant. Just beautiful! And those frosty leaves are nice too! No frost here yet.

Anonymous said...

Nature is amazing! Your pictures are beautiful!

Woody Meristem said...

Great photographs. I've never seen frostweed down here -- perhaps it doesn't grow in this area or I've just been in the right place at the wrong time.

My Lot In Life said...

Such beautiful captures especially the ones of frost outlining the leaves.

Wayne W Walls said...

Those are some super cool plants! Great photos! Thanks so much for sharing!