Frost Fest

Everyone is talking about it!  It’s the plant of the week, the one everyone wants to know and hang out with!  My own blog statistics show a dramatic spike in views of past posts written about it!  What is this trending plant, the plant with the cool vibe?  Well, it’s more than cool, it’s cold–it’s FrostweedVerbesina virginica.  Of course!

Frostweed is an excellent wildlife perennial plant, native from all the way up in Pennsylvania to here in sunny–usually mild–Texas.  Its striking summer-to-autumn white blooms, which feed many, are quite enough for me to adore Frostweed, but it’s the transitory ice show, as seen during the first hard freeze of winter, that gives this summer and autumn blooming, pollinator-loving perennial its name.

Frostweed.

Luscious ice sculpture!

In the first winter hard freeze, this week, my Frostweed strutted its icy, frosty stuff for almost three full days, due to the temperatures dropping late Sunday and not reaching above freezing until mid-day Wednesday.  The first thing I thought about on Monday morning, January 1, 2018, (okay, second–the first was about coffee…), was Oooh, I need to check out the frostweed, I’ll bet they’ve all burst open!  

Indeed, burst open they had–and how!

The moisture from the stem blasts open the epidermis of the stalk.

Breaks through the stalk, with additional curling (upper left) of the ice, occurs as moisture, forming additional ice, moves outward.

The ice formations are delicate and transient–melting at touch or temperatures over freezing.  Ice forms as the plant draws moisture up from the ground.  The supercooled moisture breaks open the epidermis, freezing from the base of the plant and upwards along the stalk.

The resulting ice sculptures can furl (unfurl?), scroll-like, along the stalk, which is how my Frostweed usually behaves.

Monday morning.

Sometimes, the ice creates wavy, ice-taffy inspired forms.

Same plant, Wednesday morning as more moisture froze along the stalk when temperatures continued to drop.

A closer look.

Curly.  Groovy.  Icy.  Beauty.

This winter’s show was special because in Austin, and certainly in more northern parts of the state, temperatures stayed below freezing for longer than the typical fleeting hard freeze, thus allowing the ice sculptures to expand, and remain frozen for admirers to appreciate for longer than just one morning.

Other perennials demonstrate similar freeze-n-bust action, but none do it with the verve and style of Frostweed.

As the sun warmed Wednesday afternoon, so melted away the exquisite, frosty art.  The frost show ended, probably until next winter, but it was fun to see.  Frostweed will be back in spring, after winter’s pruning, for another year of blooms and bust.

Frostweed–a frosty delight.

 

Frost Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about the whimsical ice art produced by FrostweedVerbesina virginica, typically revealed by the season’s first hard freeze; you can read about this winter’s ice art unveiling in my garden here.  I was coldly, but pleasantly surprised this past weekend to see more Frostweed ice sculptures after Central Texas–and my garden–plummeted to 20ºF (-6ºC).

Curled and swirled outwardly from the fractured and frayed epidermis of the stems, the ice is fragile, usually melting within a few hours as the Texas sun warms.

In the shady parts of my garden, the ribbons of frost remained a testament to the chilly weekend.

Even in sun-warmed spots, the ice art endured through Sunday, mid-day.

Some years, the Frostweed ice capades never materialize because temperatures don’t reach the freezing point. In other years when temperatures have fallen just to freezing, but no lower, and then later a deeper freeze occurs, the sap in the Frostweed acclimatizes so that the immediate and dramatic burst-freeze-ice curl doesn’t happen. In those years, it’s just plain old un-frosty Frostweed sticks amongst the downed, brown discarded leaves until it’s time to prune the sticks and rake the leaves.

This year, with temperatures swinging wildly from 80ºF to 20ºF and back again, the Frostweed proved its worth for the winter garden–at its base,

…and at its crown.

…and in a vase.

Frosty Frostweed

This past  week, winter entered the Central Texas picture with temperatures dipping to the mid 20s F/below 0 C, for several nights and mornings.  I realize that’s nothing to what the mid-west and elsewhere regularly endures, but it is a definitive so long to the blooming southwest garden!  and hello! to wilted and freeze-crisped plants.  I miss flowers in winter, but I welcome the cold(er) season exit of herbaceous perennials.  I like the bare-bones of a garden revealed, to better assess needed garden changes.

Fun to see after a hard freeze are the ice sculptured stems of FrostweedVerbesina virginica. 

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Elegant ice ribbons form when water in the stems expands rapidly during the first hard freeze of the season, exuding sap which freezes quickly and into delicate, fantastical shapes along the length of the stems.

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Wavy and curvy, the ice sheets are delicate and fragile.

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This one rocks a fungal look reminiscent of an earlier, warmer time.

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The ice ribbons usually appear near the base of the plant, but can develop along any stem–the key is plenty of sap within those epidural walls. My Frostweeds weren’t yet dormant, allowing for plenty of moisture to freeze.

I’d trimmed this Frostweed ahead of a soon-to-begin fence project.

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…and ice ribbons hug the 5 or 6 inches of remaining stems, looking like a scroll which needs unrolling.

Frostweed isn’t the only plant which produces these types of frozen sculptures, but it is a reliable ice artist in my garden.

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The ice is fragile, the sculpture ephemeral. Once the temperature rises above freezing, the natural sculpture is finished for another year.

Frostweed is an excellent plant for pollinators and birds, which is the primary reason I grow it,

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…but the ice sculptures are well-worth the winter show for the gardener.

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