Ice Ribbons, Frost Flowers, Blossoms of Ice or whatever they might be called


Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus

Geography-Geology Department

Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790



December 27, 2003, a crisp and sunny day, perfect for a hike.  Greg and I went to Big Ridge State Park along the south side of Norris Lake.  Soon we came upon a cut off log with a giant icicle extending out of the lower end.


It must have been below freezing for many days to get an icicle of this width and length.  But, it must have been warm enough in the log to keep the water flowing so the icicle would keep getting a supply of water. 

The inside of the log would be insulated from extremes of the daily fluctuations in temperature so water could continue to flow even when the air temperature drops below freezing.  And, it must have been quite wet for the log to absorb so much water like a sponge and then continue to release that water over a few days.

In this view of the icicle we see stress lines and ridges showing how layers of ice built up the icicle. 

And this was not the only case of icicles forming at the lower end of cut-off logs, as shown in another example below.



A little later I noticed white puffs off to my right, as though someone had dropped tissues.  I looked closer and saw that these objects were ribbons of ice.  They were not growing out of the ground as ice wedges do.  These ribbons seemed to be hanging from branches.  The more I review this photo I suspect the ice has slid down the twigs from the original position.  The little patch of ice on the lower twig on the left makes me think the larger glob of ice was once located here.

The ribbon above is made up of loops seeming to hang down from the twigs.  The ribbons show parallel bands similar to tree rings.  Based on what others have said about these, I now know the ribbons are extruded from the stems of these plants. 

In the example below you can tell the size of the ribbons by comparing them to the Oak leaves on the ground.  I originally thought this ribbon of ice radiated out from the node at the junction of the stems.  I now realize it was extruded from the stem with more ice being extruded at the bottom than at the top.  Thus, it appears to have rotated around the junction of the stems.  This same process seems to have occurred in the second ribbon at the bottom.  I am not ready to explain what produced the tight spiral in between these two fan-shaped ribbons.

Below is one that seems to be curled up along one edge.  That edge does not appear to have broken off, but perhaps it was broken and differential melting has produced this scalloping.

We broke off a piece and looked through it.  These ribbons of ice are very thin, as shown by the piece in Greg's hand.  In this example the parallel bands look like growth rings, but it likely these striations are formed by variations in the width of the slit from which the ice was extruded.

Below is another example, in this case above a non-leafy surface.  This demonstrates leaves are not a required component of this process, but the stems are present.

As I remember all of these ice ribbons were found along a north-facing slope.  In December 2004 I returned to the Park to see if I could find the place where I saw these ice ribbons the year before.  I did not find that place, but I did find some ice ribbons or ice flowers in another place and in somewhat different forms.  There are two pages showing what I found in 2004.

In 2005 I found such ice formations in northern Kentucky and in central Virginia.  Check these out, for they are somewhat different than what I show here but they are the same things.

From this point I made my commitment to exploring such ice in nature. To follow the thread of such ice occurring in nature look at my Ice Flower web page. Note the process of producing Ice Flowers is Ice Segregation. 

But my web pages attracted attention from people looking to find answers to strange ice formations. That has led to many interesting worlds of ice reflected on a variety of web pages.  

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



one of the pages of Dr. James R. Carter