Frost flowers create unique visuals in north Austin

Weather Blog

Bruce Whitaker (Walnut Creek, north Austin)

Freezing cold mornings in Central Texas can lead to nature’s own unusual-looking ice sculptures, the frost flower.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, frost flowers form when air temperatures are below freezing, but the ground still is warm enough for the plant’s root system to be active. Moisture in the plant flows 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 since water expands when it freezes.

The icy may emerge from a small slit in the plant to form thin ribbon-like 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 flower-like petal effect.

Bruce Whitaker (Walnut Creek, north Austin)

TPWD says that only a few species of plants are capable of producing these icy creations. The frostweed (Verbesinia virginica), found across Texas, is one of them. These waist to shoulder-high plants grow in dense patches in the moist, shaded soil of river or creek bottoms and form heavy undergrowth in the shade of large trees. This plant is also known as Indian tobacco or tickweed because the dried leaves were once used by Indians as tobacco, and because people walking through the plants invariably gather a few seed ticks.

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