Frost flowers in Missouri: What are they? How to find them?

Frost flowers at Chesapeake Fish Hatchery.

Frost flowers at Chesapeake Fish Hatchery.

Missouri Department of Conservation

Some of the first frost flowers of the fall season have emerged in Missouri, state wildlife officials said.

The delicate and short-lived flowers were spotted at Chesapeake Fish Hatchery, near Mount Vernon, on Oct. 31, as seen in photos shared by the Missouri Department of Conservation on Facebook.

What are frost flowers?

Not really a flower at all, frost flowers are delicate, beautiful ribbons of ice crystals that form on the lower stems of a few species of Missouri native plants,” according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

They typically occur in late fall, officials said, while the ground is still warm after a few hard freezes.

“Their season is brief, and they disappear quickly on the day they occur, melting like frost when the air warms or rays of sunlight fall on the delicate structures,” officials said.

How do the flowers form?

After a hard freeze ruptures the stems of certain plants, the roots will still send up plant sap from the warm ground, according to the conservation department.

“The sap pushes through the broken stem and freezes on contact with the cold air,” officials said. “As more saps moves up, it forces the freezing stream of white ice crystals into ornate, folded ribbons that look like petals, puffs of cotton candy, or snarls of white thread.”

Dittany, stinkweed and white crownbeard are the few native plants known to produce frost flowers, but scientists are unsure what makes these plants special.

“Perhaps their root systems are more active later in the year than other species, or their stems rupture in just the right way to force the ribbons of sap,” the state department said. “Whatever the reason, frost flowers only appear on the stems of a few species.”

Where can you find frost flowers?

Experts say that to find frost flowers, you should first find places where dittany, stinkweed and white crownbeard grow naturally.

Dittany grows in southern, central and east-central Missouri counties, officials said, and white crownbread can be found south of the Missouri River. Stinkweed, though, is not widespread.

“When it starts to frost in the fall, plan to get out early and visit the places where you’ve seen frost-flower plants growing,” the conservation department said.

You’ll have to “be in the right place at the right time,” officials said, which means there are even experienced naturalists who have never seen a frost flower in person.

Kaitlyn Alatidd is a McClatchy National Real-Time Reporter based in Kansas. She is an agricultural communications & journalism alumna of Kansas State University. Frost flowers in Missouri: What are they? How to find them?

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