Friday, February 18, 2005

Frostflowers



White crownbeard - Verbesina virginica

Before I knew the real name of these plants I called them Ice Plants. I'm a flower nut but mostly a springtime flower nut, so I haven't studied fall flowers very much.

They have small, somewhat coarse white flowers. There's a lot more leaf than flower to them, so sometimes they suffer from the "it's just a weed" syndrome.

It seems like half the time I ask wildflower experts the name of something, it turns out to be beneath their notice, and they'll say "I don't know, it's just a weed!"

Anyway, this plant is called White Crownbeard, frostflower, or frostweed. Here's a site that shows them in bloom.

The most interesting thing about these plants to me is what happens after the flowers are gone. The first time I saw it, I wondered if loose cotton had somehow blown into the edges of the yard.




It only happens after a really hard freeze. Although the plant remnants look like dry sticks by the time it freezes, they somehow produce all this ice. One website I visited said that they are drawing the water from the ground.

The first time it happens is the most dramatic, and forms the most ice, but it'll happen again several more times when we go through cycles of warming up and then freezing again.

So what makes it happen with this plant, but not with others? I have no idea.

After I wrote the above, I searched a little more on Google and found this page that explains more about the phenomenon. (And has lots better pictures than mine!) The frost from plants he found was very thin. On the plants here it varies, but is usually thicker.

8 comments:

MissBossyPants said...

I've always thought cotton fields were pretty. They remind me of that Pogues song :) Also, unfortunately, tobacco is a pretty plant, too.

Rhodent said...

What a cool plant! Thanks for the info... I want to go find one!

Rurality said...

Me too, but that's probably because we never had to pick it! (My mom had to when she was growing up.)

I don't know that Pogues song I guess... The one I really liked was "If I Should Fall from Grace with God".

Hi Rhodent, thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

This is very timely....a couple weeks ago Blake and I were hiking through our woods and I saw what looked almost like a curly chunk of pure white fleece twisted around a stick.

We stared and stared, wondering what it was, then after touching it, decided it must be a fungus of some sort.

I just had to run into the other room to tell him it was White Crownbeard...now I want to go hunting for more of them!

-Sarah http://www.slaphog.com/sarahblog/

Jenny said...

I've never seen anything like this ! At first, I thought they were cotton flowers (but I've never seen any cotton flowers either...). They make for lovely pictures.

pavel said...

What beautiful, ephermeral flowers. I suspect it's too cold in our own woods to propigate these winter wildflowers, but I love the idea of flowers blooming in mid-winter.

pavel said...

What beautiful, ephermeral flowers. I suspect it's too cold in our own woods to propigate these winter wildflowers, but I love the idea of flowers blooming in mid-winter.

Rurality said...

Sarah, I believe there may be one or two similar plants in the same family that also do this. One has yellow flowers instead of white (in the fall). If you're hiking there next fall try to find them when they're blooming!

Jenny, I had never seen them either before we moved here. Around here they grow at the edges of the woods.

Pavel, I think you're right, if the ground itself was frozen, the water couldn't be drawn up through the plant to do this.