Ice Flowers at Big Ridge State Park, Tennessee, December 2004


Dr. James R. Carter, Professor

Geography-Geology Department

Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790




This page builds on my page on my discovery of Ice Flowers, or Ice Ribbons, or Frost Flowers at Big Ridge State Part in East Tennessee in December 2003.  When I returned to east Tennessee to visit my family for the holidays, I went back to the State Park to review the area where I saw Ice Flowers the year before.  I did not anticipate seeing any ice formations because there had been many cold days before and it was not that cold the day I went to Big Ridge.  After all, everyone says these ice formations occur with the first strong frost of the winter season.  And a colleague in Tennessee said he saw patches of these ice flowers three weeks before along the Interstate southwest of Knoxville.

So, I hiked to the approximate area where I thought I saw the ice formations last year.  It was a difficult hike because there were many pines down covering the trail.  I was looking for the stems of Dittany, Cunila origanoides, one of the plants which has been associated with ice ribbons or ice flowers. Note that this species is also called Wild Oregano by some.  I did not find any of these plants where I thought they might be, but in a low area I found some dry stems that seemed to be what I was looking for (below, left).


I looked for evidence that the stems might have been split by extrusions of ribbons of ice.  At the bottom of the first big plant, I found the stem had been split into many long strands (right). 

Wow, this was consistent with what I thought I might find.  I took many photos of the plants and the split stems.  While kneeling, my knee got wet because the surface of the ground was wet showing that the ground surface was above freezing.  It was not a sunny day.




I went about a hundred yards down the trail and saw four patches of white ice flowers in a jumble of branches and undergrowth (below).  Wow, I did not expect to find any of these on this trip. 

These were quite different from the ones I saw last year but they were similar to some I have seen if photos on the web.   I took many photos.  Note the many small green leaves of honeysuckle climbing up the stems.  Below are two views of the same formation of ice.  Should a formation of ice in this form be called a ribbon, a flower, a blossom, or what?

Some of the examples of these ice formations on the web show true ribbons of ice.  Below are two examples that are quite consistent with those examples I have seen on the web.  In the example on the left, the ice seems to extend out in four, or five, distinct ribbons.  In the example on the right, there appear to be three distinct ribbons--none extending off to the right.  The sizes of the leaves are a good measure of the size of these ribbons of ice.

I found these ice formations in two different places along the lowland near a small stream.  At the second site was this patch of ice at the base of a stem that had tipped over to about a 45-degree angle. (below)  The photo on the left shows the entire patch of ice which had tipped over with the plant stem.  I noticed there were many ribbons of ice extending out from this single stem.  To show those many distinct ribbons, I focused on the stem and enhanced the contrast in the photo. But note that these ribbons do not extend out as far as those in the photos above.

Below is a photo pair showing the base of one rather large blossom of ice and the upper extent of the stem of the plant. I have been told this is White Crownbeard.  The total height of this plant was at least 8 feet (240cm).  I found the shape of this ice blossom to be very attractive and complex.  On another page I have four images of this one ice formation. 

As an atmospheric scientist I want to know how these form.  And I want to know in what kinds of environments they form.  Last year when I visited the Park, I saw icicles hanging from logs.  This year I saw no icicles on my hike.  Does the water balance of the micro-environment have something to do with the nature of the ice formations?  And they are not limited to the first period of freezing temperatures because these occurred well after the first freeze.

As I was driving back to Illinois on December 24, I saw patches of such ice blossoms along the side of the Interstate a little north of Knoxville.  It was not convenient to stop so I have only images of these patches in my mind.  I am certain there were more than a hundred in one patch.

One of my colleagues in central Illinois told me he saw some of these while camping in Sand Ridge State Park earlier in the fall.  So, now I need to look for these locally as well as in east Tennessee.




return to my master page on Ice Flowers, or Ice Ribbons

one of the pages of Dr. James R. Carter