Check Out These Kansas City Plants That Are 'Growing' Ice Flowers

Jan 12, 2016

A hard freeze is bad for most flowers, but a patch of prairie in midtown Kansas City has seen so-called “frost flowers” in full bloom this winter.

Frost flowers aren’t really flowers at all. They are ribbons of ice twirling out from the stalks of some plants including the white crownbeard, a wildflower flower native to Missouri and Kansas.

At the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center near Troost Avenue and Volker Boulevard, white crownbeard towers 7-feet tall near walking trails. But to find frost flowers, don’t look up. Look down to where the plants meet the ground.

When hunting for frost flowers, look down to where the plant's stem meets the ground.
Credit Maria Carter / KCUR 89.3

If you are lucky and the conditions are right, you’ll see ribbons of ice twirling from the stalk of the plant. 

“To have something flower-like in terms of shape and form and even color, considering the white color of them, in the dead of winter is kind of like a winter miracle,” says Bill Graham, a spokesperson for the MDC based at the Discovery Center.

It is unusual to have frost flowers so late in the winter. They are more likely in late autumn and early winter when the ground is still warm and moist.  

White crownbeard, one of the native wildflowers to form frost flowers, lines the walking paths at Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.
Credit Maria Carter / KCUR 89.3

  

Frost flowers are formed when freezing temperatures form cracks in the stems of some plants. The roots of the dormant plants are still alive and push sap through those cracks. When the sap hits the cold air, ribbons of ice begin to fold out from the stem, often forming fanciful shapes like the petals on the flowers. 

Graham says he has seen frost flowers in the prairie habitat over the past few years but this year was special.  “I just noticed quite a few this year and running later than they normally do,” he says.

But time is running out — Graham says he doesn’t expect the frost flowers to last much longer this winter, so if you want to see one head down to the Discovery Center soon. 

Maria Carter is the news director at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on twitter @mariacarter or send story ideas to maria@kcur.org.