white tendrils of material extending from a plant

What’s Going on Here?

Unless you live under a very warm rock, you’re well aware Central Texas is an icebox right now.

If you’ve braved the frozen tundra, you may have seen plants doing some bizarre things. But one of the most bizarre of all, most of us might think, is this:

white tendrils of material extending from a plant
(photo/Marc Opperman @slowcomotive via Flickr)

What is it? A native Texas pollinator staple called frostweed. What we’re seeing is a physical reaction by the plant to freezing temperatures.

Why does it happen? That’s the really weird part.

white tendrils of material extending from a plant

Maas Verde’s Marc Opperman explains:

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is a native Texas perennial that, in its natural state, colonizes under live oaks and other shaded areas. It can grow to five feet or higher in wetter years, and is still incredibly hardy in drier ones. It produces prolific clusters of white composite flowers in Fall, making it an important nectar source for many pollinators, including migrating monarch butterflies.

But when temperatures take a steep polar dive in Winter, frostweed really puts on a show.

As the air drops quickly below freezing, but when the ground remains relatively warm and moist, sap from the active root system of the plant pushes up through the above-ground stem. As the sap freezes, it splits the stem and begins to produce delicate ice “flowers” that can sometimes resemble white roses made of ribbons, or maybe a large tuft of cotton. Often, the tendrils of frozen sap will continue to grow for as long as the ground stays warmer and the air stays cold. It’s not uncommon to find these ribbons growing to a foot or more over prolonged cold.

Relatively few plants exhibit these ice shows, and no one seems exactly sure why frostweed does. But this unique bit of winter interest, as well as its shade tolerance, drought-hardiness, and importance to pollinators, makes frostweed a worthy addition to a native landscape.

frostweed
(Photo/Marc Opperman)

You heard it here first.

Featured Image: Frostweed displaying its signature winter behavior; (photo/Marc Opperman @slowcomotive via Flickr)



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