One of my favorite things about early winter is frost ribbons, or ice flowers. Frost ribbons are thin ribbons of ice that form at the base of White Wingstem and other flowers on cold nights when the sky is clear. They can range in height from 6 inches to 24 inches, and are usually more abundant in low-lying areas along streams and ditches. These beautiful displays quickly disappear with the first warming of sun, and can reappear on the same plant for many mornings. Frost ribbons are normally associated on White Wingstem (Verbesina virginica) and Yellow Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), which are abundant in Bernheim Forest.
Frost ribbon occurs when the air temperature is at freezing, but the ground as not yet frozen. Sap in the plants expand as it freezes, causing cracks to form along the stem. Water is forced out these cracks freezing as it hits the air. This frozen water forms long frozen ribbons that continue to grow as more water is forced out the stem.