Over the years of working at restoring a savanna woodland in Ozark County, I know how early morning walks in late fall can often lead to some amazing sightings.
The past few autumns, in October and November, I often was decked out in my hunter's orange vest, carrying a chainsaw up to the savanna, preparing a fire line for a controlled burn scheduled for late winter to early spring.
I couldn't start my morning tasks and disturb the peaceful silence without first taking in the natural surroundings. Whether it was it was migrating birds overhead, curious river otters along the banks of the North Fork of the White River, a bald eagle in a sycamore tree still adorned with its unique fruit appearing like ornaments on a Christmas tree or the frost outlined leaves of brambles and farkle berries on a wooded slope, the winter landscape of the Ozarks is beautiful even if it is in a subtle way this time of year.
Besides viewing the abundant wildlife of the Ozarks, one of the most fascinating natural wonders to be seen on a cold frosty morning around this time of year is "frost flowers."
What are 'frost flowers'?
"Frost flowers" are ribbons of ice around the stems of herbaceous plants on the forest floor which form after the first hard freeze in Missouri.
These ice crystal "flowers" form as sap in the stems of plants and are subjected to freezing temperatures, causing the structure of the plant to rupture, forcing the liquid inside the plant out into frozen slender ribbons, which appear more reminiscent of mineral "cave drapery" formations inside a cavern deep underground.
What is interesting about the process of "frost flower" formation is that the vascular system of the plants is still initially functioning on the first hard freeze, causing more moisture from the roots through the base of the stem to be forced out into the freezing atmosphere.
These "frost flowers" quickly disappear once the morning sun heats up the atmosphere, melting the flowers away only to be seen once again the following fall.
Timing is everything, and if the temperatures are just right, you may run across an entire hillside, covered in rosettes of ice crystal formations, which are truly a unique site to see.
Pat Perry, a Meramec Hills Chapter Missouri Master Naturalist, had this wonderful experience of coming across a hillside covered in frosty blooms in Phelps County and was kind enough to share a few photos for this week's Nature's Advocate article.
Not all herbaceous native plants form frost flowers with freezing temperatures in the late fall as their foliage dies back to the ground.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday morning when the temperatures dipped to the low 20s and upper teens were perfect times to view frost flowers on the Ozark landscape.
Page 2 of 2 - Plants such as dittany (Cunila origanoides), yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) are noted for their tendency to produce these fleeting frost flowers.
Dittany makes a great woodland garden wildflower and is known also for having foliage with the scent of oregano.
Although cold, and sometimes dreary, there is so much beauty to be held in Missouri in the late fall and early winter.
One must only take time to take a closer look at the natural surroundings for the natural beauty of the dormant landscape is not always initially seen at first glance.