The Frost Flowers are Blooming, Y’all

We went hunting for a more delicate example of a particular Texas native plant’s winter “flowers,” but instead we found this massive specimen near Boerne.


Styrofoam wrap. Cotton bolls. Trash.

From a distance Texas Hill Country frost flowers can resemble any and all of the above, yet in truth they’re far more complex and interesting than those comparisons suggest.

One of only a few plant species to produce icy “blooms,” the common Texas frostweed (Verbesina virginica, also known as “Indian tobacco” and “tickweed”) can put on quite a show in the depths of winter. You’ll typically find them in rural or urban naturalized areas clustered under the shade of large trees.

The weather situation has to be just right, however, for them to do their thing.

As the prolific Texas nature writer Ilo Hiller noted in Young Naturalist:

Frost flowers develop when air temperatures are freezing by the ground is warm enough for the plant’s root system to be active. Plant juices flow from these roots up into the stem, where the cold air freezes them. As the moisture in the plant freezes, the ice crystals push out through the stem. They may emerge from a small slit to form thin ribbonlike strands or they may split open a whole section of the stem and push out in a thin, curling sheet. Sometimes several ribbons of ice push out to create a flowerlike petal effect. [Read more on the Texas Parks & Wildlife website]

The process continues for as long as the plants have juice, the temperature is low, and the sun stays tucked behind a cloud. Some “flowers” remain small and delicate like these, others transform into large masses that resemble something one might find near a spinning wheel in an Old World fairy tale illustration. Or maybe in the woods behind Hogwarts.

With freezing weather hanging around for a couple of more days here in the Hill Country, try grabbing your camera early in the day to see if you can spot one.

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