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Ice Flowers

April 23, 2020

Many would agree that winter has felt like a particularly long season here in northeast Indiana. Spring has been here for over a month and yet, we’ve seen the snow fall several times in the last week. Many of us are eager to be outside as spring attempts to greet us. We are ready to welcome the flowering trees and plants, the arrival of birds, and to feel the warm breeze and sunshine on our skin, as we dress in fewer layers.

While winter weather continues to stick with us, we can still find elements of nature to admire. Recently, I was looking for signs of growth in our rain garden and discovered a natural phenomenon that I’ve heard about, but never observed in person.

So, what is it that we might be lucky enough to spot in this time between winter and spring? Spectacular and elusive ice flowers. From first glance they appear to be white ribbons hugging the stem of a plant.

Pictured below, these layers of ice crystals form when moisture inside a plant freezes and splits the stem extruding thin layers of ice. Available moisture in the soil is pulled up through the stem and freezes as the air temperature approaches sub-freezing. In this sighting, the ice flower ‘petals’ wrapped around the stem of a mountain mint plant. Paper thin ice petals are fragile and last as long as the temperature allows. Each is unique and mysterious.

Another common time of year to spot these elusive ice formations is between fall and winter when soil moisture is present, and the sub-freezing temperatures arrive. The formations are common at the base of plants you might find in a prairie. Make plans to visit Spangler Grove or the west end of the Clear Lake Nature Preserve to seek out these spectacular ice flowers this fall.

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