The gorgeous “blooms” require just the right conditions to unfurl. 
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Frost Flower
Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

When freezing temperatures hit, it's easy to assume that the South's vibrant florals are long gone, withered away until winter ends. But you might want to think again. When temperatures drop, frost flowers—also known as ice flowers, ice fringes, ice filaments, and rabbit ice—come out to play. The rare "blooms" require freezing temperatures and a perfect storm of conditions to form, making them rather rare. But when they do appear, the incredible natural phenomenon is truly a sight to behold. 

We'll let you in on a little secret: Frost flowers aren't actually flowers, or even made of plant material at all. They're brilliantly white sheets of ice crystal that fashion into feathery curls and ribbons when the weather is just right. i.e. The ground can't be frozen but the atmosphere must be below freezing. 

Frost Flowers
Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

In these conditions, water traveling up plant stems expands. The expansion can cause vertical splits in the plant stem, and when the water in the stems is exposed to freezing air, paper-thin layers of ice begin extruding through the newly formed slits. Like snowflakes, no two of these whimsical frost flowers is alike, and they're also extremely fleeting. 

Your best chance to see one? Head out early on a cold, still morning and look for a shady spot. A touch of sun easily melts these delicate formations, so once the sun is high, your spotting chances drop significantly. Plants that commonly form frost flowers are Verbesina alternifolia (yellow and purple ironweed or wingstem) and Verbesina virginica (white crownbeard or frostweed). 

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Frost flowers have been spotted all over the South this season, including in Atlanta's Goizueta Gardens and Tennessee State Parks.

Happy hunting!