Ice Ribbons, Ice Flowers, or Frost Flowers in northern Kentucky, USA


Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus

Geography-Geology Department

Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790




I found ice ribbons, or frost flowers, the previous two years in late December in east Tennessee.  I have been trying to figure out where and when these form.  Someone sent me email from Trimble County, KY, saying she had seen such ice formations there.  I know the plant called Frost Flower or White Crownbeard  Verbesina virginica occurs in southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and further south so I knew I might find such ice formations if the weather was right.

As luck would have it, it was cold and frosty on November 18, 2005, when I traveled through this area.  I thought conditions might be right and I went searching for these ice flowers early that morning in southern Indiana, but had no luck.  Then along US-421, south of Bedford, KY, I found this site along the road.

There were more than a hundred white puffs at the side of the road, between the shallow ditch and the fence.  These were so obvious I had no trouble spotting them.  The problem was finding a place to park along the busy highway.

Obviously, I found a parking place and verified that these white patches were ice formations and not plastic bags and styrofoam cups.  A few miles before I found a similar area of white patches that proved to be trash.

It is interesting to note that the ice formations occur equally on plants that were mowed earlier in the season and on plants that had not been cut.

This ribbon of ice above makes a nice complement to the green leaves.  Obviously, they had not had a killing frost in this area.  On this photo the stem from which the ice emerged is not readily evident, unlike the ribbon below.

The formation above is one of the more classic forms of such ice extruded from the base of a cut off stem.

The two sets of ice ribbons above are on cut-off stems.  The circular ribbon on the left is a common form of these ice formations.  You can see frost on the edges of many of the green leaves in this photo.

This formation of ice almost makes a complete disc.  Obviously, ice grew, or emerged, faster near the ground than further up the stem which would account for the arcuate form on both sides of the stem.  Note the spots of frost on the green leaf and along the blade of grass.

This complex array of ice resulted from ribbons emerging from multiple stems.  The white makes a nice contrast to the dry brown leaves and frosted green leaves.

Here is another perspective of the same jumble of ice ribbons.  

These two pieces of ice show the sharp edges where the ice was attached to the plant stem.  These pieces readily broke off from the stem while retaining their form. This ice was quite dense and the pieces did not shatter as described by many who have commented on such ice formations.

The stems on which these ice ribbons seem to Verbesina virginica, or White Crownbeard.  However, I could be wrong and invite anyone more knowledgeable on this to set me straight.

Continue along my journey down US 421 and see more ice ribbons.


Please send any thoughts and comments to me--Dr. Jim Carter at  [email protected]  

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