The warm days of spring are months away, but some of Kansas’ prettiest flowers have been blooming on recent cold mornings.
They’re called frost flowers or ice roses. They’re amazingly delicate little sheets of ice that grow in clusters. Even people who couldn’t tell a tulip from a lilac stop and admire these stunning works of Mother Nature.
Botanists say they’re created at special times when the air is very cold but the soil moist and warm enough to stay unfrozen. Only a few plants can produce frost flowers. In Kansas, white crownbeard plants are probably the most common.
Moisture pushed up the plant’s stalk freezes, expands and pushes through tiny vertical slits. Intricate, paper-thin ice crystals are formed that usually bend or roll to resemble flower petals.
Some are mostly vertical, like iris blossoms. Many are round like carnations or mums. Some resemble fine roses made of snow-white ice.
Often where you find one, you’ll find more. Often, many, many more.
Jason Vanley, an avid outdoorsman, recently saw frost flowers for the first time near a creek in Butler County. It’s a setting he’ll never forget.
“…they were everywhere,” said Vanley. “Thousands of them. Looked like fields of frozen white roses.”
Frost flowers don’t hold up long once the air temperature gets above freezing or in sunlight.
Since they’re tied to specific plants and habitats, frost flowers probably aren’t found all across Kansas.
Most of the frost flowers I’ve seen have been in the heavily wooded Chautauqua Hill region of southeast Kansas. All have been on the wooded edge where timber meets open fields. They’re usually on the shady side of hills or tall timber.
Vanley’s find in Butler County is as far west as I’ve heard of them being found.
Botanical maps show white crownbeard, also known as frost weed, to be contained to only the eastern one-third of Kansas.
Dave Goble, Crawford State Park manager, said he has seen frost flowers in the park. Other state parks with seemingly good habitat include Elk City, Cross Timbers, El Dorado, and possibly Perry, Melvern, Pomona and Clinton state parks.
For those who are interested, some people create their own patches of frost flowers by planting white crownbeard in their yards. The plants are also very attractive to butterflies when they bloom in the summer.