Delicate Ice Beauty Frost Flowers

Morning temperatures in the upper teens to low twenties make the temptation to huddle in by the wood stove almost insurmountable. Delicate ice beauty waits out on the hills.

Frost flowers only appear a few mornings in the late fall. Huddle up by the wood stove those mornings and you will miss them. Bundle up and walk out to the woods to savor one of winter’s beauties.

The dittany plant sends out several thin stems with paired leaves. In late summer sprays of flowers are at each leaf pair.

Only a few plants create frost flowers. Dittany is an easy to find reliable one for me. It is a small plant so the frost flowers are only one to five inches tall.

pair of delicate ice beauty
The ribbons of ice in a frost flower vary in thickness creating a textured look. The thickness is barely that of a sheet of paper.

Dittany is a mint family member and grows in open wooded hillsides. The plant is about a foot tall with thin stems and opposite triangular leaves. It puts out sprays of light lavender tube flowers in late August. When frost comes, the stems and leaves turn brown and stand up through the drifts of fallen leaves.

Hillsides tend to stay warmer than valleys so the first few cold mornings generally don’t affect the hillsides. It takes several cool days and temperatures dropping down into the low twenties to upper teens to trigger frost flowers.

ribbons of delicate ice beauty frost flower
The dittany stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The amount of ice ribbon that comes out of such a small stem is amazing.

Dittany holds moisture in its stems. When the temperatures drop, the water freezes, splits the stem and oozes out as a delicate ice beauty. These ribbons of ice swirl around forming coats around the stems or spread out along the ground. Some form ice rings.

Each frost flower is unique. Each delicate ice beauty is fleeting. One touch crumbles it. A ray of sun melts it.

swirls of delicate ice beauty frost flower
Many of the frost flowers have this general shape as the ribbons ooze out of the stems and curl around it. Yet each frost flower is unique.

This year had a wet fall so the dittany loaded up on moisture. Then the temperatures plunged to the upper teens for two mornings. I knew the frost flowers had to be out on the hill.

The goats wanted breakfast. The wood stove beckoned. I went walking on the hills for a time. The frost flowers were magnificent.

Find more frost flower photographs in “My Ozark Home”.