Frostweed Amazed Many During Last Week’s Deep Freeze

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When temperatures across Texas plunged last week, photos started showing up on social media of curious-looking, cotton candy-esque ice formations on the stems of some of the native flora across the state. At first glance, some thought it was a plastic bag hung up on the stems. Some considered that it could be the nest or web of a nefarious insect, but those who know their native Texas plants knew immediately what this phenomenon was: frostweed.

Verbesina Virginica Is A Butterfly Favorite

Verbesina Virginica

Photo: Flickr/Jenny Evans

The plant most commonly seen making this ice ribbon is the Verbesina Virginica. Verbesina Virginica is a butterfly favorite that blooms in late Texas summers–the hottest part of the year, and continues blooming until frost. While the plant is most commonly called Verbesina Virginica, according to the LBJ Wildflower Center, it also goes by the names White Crownbeard, Iceplant, Iceweed, Virginia Crownbeard, Indian Tobacco, Richweed and Squaweed. Additionally, frostweed leaves provided a tobacco source for some Native Americans, which presumably gave rise to those last two common names, but frostweed was also traditionally used as a fixative for gastrointestinal issues, urinary, and eye problems as well.

Bursting Stems Create These Beautiful Ice Formations


Photo: Flickr/Bill Dodd

The plant gets the name frostweed from its unusual behavior in the winter. When a freeze occurs, the stems will burst and make beautiful ice formations at the base of the plants. You have to go out early to see it because the ice sculpture melts quickly.

The ice crystals formed on the stems of this and other plant species have been given many names – among them: ice ribbons, ice flowers, ice fringes, ice fingers, ice filaments, ice leaves, frost flowers, frost ribbons, frost freaks, frost beards, frost castles

Conditions Must Be Just Right For Frostweed


Photo: Flickr/trekr

As the temperature plummets, sap in the trunk cools and expands, eventually breaking through the epidermis of the plant. The sap hits the freezing air, solidifies in thin sheets, moving up along the vertical structure of the plant. The ice sculptures freeze in a ribbon-like design. Conditions for this awesome display are particular: the ground must be moist, assuring the roots are actively drawing  water into the plant.  Also, the temperature drop must be relatively rapid, which is what we experienced last week in Texas.