Two years ago, Gail at Clay and Limestone kindly shared with me some seeds of Verbesina virginica.
I had never before heard of this wildflower, native to my area of the United States. I’ll blame my ignorance on the fact that Verbesina virginica grows in mostly in alkaline soils, which I don’t now and never have had. Also known as white crownbeard, Verbesina virginica can be either biennial or perennial, and grows from the Atlantic coast west to Texas and Kansas and as far north as Iowa and Pennsylvania. It spreads gently by rhizomes to form colonies in the dappled shade of large trees.
While beautiful in itself and appealing to pollinators, the real show comes in winter. Cold temperatures freeze the water in the plant’s stems, which then rupture under pressure. The ice expands as it freezes, forming elegant, curving ribbons. It’s this habit that gives the plant another of its common names, frostweed. I haven’t seen any frost ribbons from my own plant, as this is the first year it’s grown to any noticeable height, but the prospect of watching this natural sculpture form in my garden gives me a reason to anticipate the dark season ahead.
Forrest Mims III runs a time-lapse gallery of frostweed in glorious action on his website. And Bob Harms at the University of Texas at Austin has a website devoted to the science and art of these stunning frost flowers, which he calls “crystallofolia.”