This naturally occurring flower is made of ice

Illustration for article titled This naturally occurring flower is made of ice

Some people who live in wooded areas where it is both wet and cold have seen blooming flowers of ice grow from stems either in the early morning or early evening. These are called frost flowers. They can look like curling flower petals, down, or even tiny ice hairs growing from the stems of plants. We'll tell you how they're made.


Frost flowers were objects of wonder for hundreds of years before people figured out how they formed, or managed to grow them themselves. They are also called ice flowers, or even frost beards, because they can look like white hair growing on trees. They emerge just as the temperature drops below freezing, from the bark of long-stemmed plants or trees. It's possible to see them in winter, but they're most likely to come in early spring or late fall, when the temperature vacillates between just above the freezing point of water and just below.

Illustration for article titled This naturally occurring flower is made of ice

There was long debate about how they formed, until people managed to start making them reliably but cutting sections of plant stems and letting them suck up water until they were full, but not dripping wet. They were then put in conditions that allowed the temperature to drop steadily below freezing, and they slowly grew.

The water inside plant stems is drawn upwards by capillary action - which requires capillaries. These tiny passageways sometimes pass very close to the outside of the plant. When the water in them freezes, it expands, cracking the outer barrier of the plant. The water spills out, but freezes on contact with the air. As more water is either draw up, or trickles out of the stem through the plant, it also freezes, growing a long petal of water. Frost flowers can look like sheets of lace, or fur, or orchid petals. If you happen to live somewhere the temperature drops, you might try it with a few plant stems and see if you can make one.

Image: Slomoz

Via Scientific American and Missouri Department of Conservation.




Makes you wonder if the same physical properties helped shape the way that plants evolved in the first place.