On Friday, November 26, the first hard frost happened in my Waldo neighborhood, and along with it, my first ever sighting of Frost Flowers. I had an early 7 am appointment, and when I returned and walked from our detached garage, I looked over to the rain garden and saw what first appeared to be some litter that the wind had carried from a distance and deposited at the base of standing stems.
I quickly realized it was not trash I was seeing, but the elusive frost flowers that occur for just a few hours at the turn of the season. For the last seven or eight years, after I learned of this natural phenomenon, I had been scouring our few native plants that produce such oddities at the first hard freeze.
I was surprised that I did not find the frost flowers on one of the native plants known for manufacturing the flowers, but instead, they were occurring at the base of our Downy Skullcap. Ironically, there were no frost flowers on our native wingstem wildflower plants, the species I had been checking on for the last several years and known for frost flowers.
The flowers vary in size and can be up to three inches across, commonly appearing at the base of the stems of the host plants.
The frost flowers reminded me of some of the delicate cave formations I was introduced to when I worked as a park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Pictured is a Gypsum Flower.
Helictites are another type of speleothem that exhibits similar characteristics.
In the July edition of my What’s Blooming blog, I wrote about frost flowers and provided a link on how they form. Little did I know that I would be rewarded with my very own crop of flowers a few months later.
Below is the excerpt from my blog article.
One of the most amazing properties of this plant occurs long after the flowers have bloomed and the petals have dropped. Around the time of the first hard freezes, the base of the plant may surprise you with an icy swirl called a “frost flower.” Very few plants have the capability to present us with such wonders, and the Yellow Crownbeard (also called wingstem) is one. This sunflower can reach heights up to four feet.
For a full description of this fascinating natural wonder, try this link from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Likely, your chance of seeing a frost flower has passed this year. Although they are not rare, they are rarely seen, as one must be in the right place, at the right time. I invite you to try, and happy hunting! May your discovery happen sooner than mine.
(All photos by author Steve Oakes unless otherwise noted)