Frost Flowers

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with colors, textures and sweet and pungent aromas. With their natural display, the herbs help us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

This past week, all of the botanizers, hunters and nature lovers have been treated to ice sculptures in the woods and along roadsides, creeks and wetlands. With daytime temperatures remaining below the freezing point in the shade, those of us who brake for wildflowers are pulling over to take shots of dittany, Cunila origanoides, and white crown-beard, aka frostweed, Verbesina virginica. Steven Foster and Susan Belsinger are two herbal friends sharing information online about these unique plants, both native to Arkansas.

The new term for the plant ice formations is “crystallofolia”, coined by Bob Harms of the Plant Resource Center, University of Texas, Austin. You can read Steven Foster's article on Most folks around here call them frost flowers. When temperatures get really cold the plant sap freezes and breaks the epidermis of the plant stems of both species. At that point the sap escapes, freezing as it flows, creating frozen crystals, movement frozen in  the cold air.

Dittany frost flowers freeze at ground level. The plants only reach a foot or so high in full flower during the month of July through October. The blooms are lavender to white and occur on stiff stems on the tops of the plants. The leaves will numb the tongue and are nice to nibble while walking. Nan DeVries of Mountain View was the first person to break off a piece of the oregano-flavored ice from the base of a frozen dittany plant and offer the amazing taste treat to me many moons ago.

White crown-beard is weedy, growing up to seven-feet tall in thick stands. Monarch butterflies and other pollinators love the white flowers that appear in late summer and fall. The thick ice formations can occur a foot or two up the stem of these plants and are seen in ditches and at the base of shady bluffs throughout our region.

I hope you will get out and enjoy these and other winter wonders during this season. We are blessed with rare sights, sounds, smells and tastes that are specific to our Ozark home. If I don't see you in the future—I'll see you in the pasture.