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Frosty reminder

March 13, 2018

2018-01 Congaree Swamp NP-5854-2South Carolina froze last night, right down to 32 degrees. It’s nothing like the walloping the Northeast is getting, and I’m not complaining. My citrus trees are covered and lit to stay warm, and that’s it for my efforts. The cold did remind me of our bitter January and a frozen treat we encountered in Congaree Swamp National Park, 30 minutes or so away from town. Have you ever heard of frost flowers or frost weed? I hadn’t. They turned up in photos on my amazing friend and horticulture goddess Andrea’s Instagram when she found them on their farm in central Texas. She ID’d them as Verbesina virginica. Hers were as long as her elegant hand.

2018-01 Congaree Swamp NP-5853-2It happens when ice drawn up through the stem splits it, and extrudes in swirls and planes. It requires frozen ground in moist areas, and of course below freezing temperatures, so I never imagined I’d see them here. Then came our deep freeze, and the rangers at Congaree posted a photo of one they found! So off we went on a freezing sunny Saturday in search. The rangers provided a waypoint, and there we combed the leafy scrub and almost gave up. Then we found them, five scattered by the path, tiny but shimmering. Nowhere near as large as Andrea’s–we were almost on our bellies to see them up close–but still a thrill to find for me and especially for my 6-year-old explorer.


The rangers aren’t sure of the species, but Verbesina virginica does grow in the swamp. notes “the same phenomenon is regularly noted on the stems of Helianthemum canadense (common names: Frostweed, Rock frost, Frostplant, Frostwort, Longbranch Frostweed), H. bicknellii (common names: Frostweed, Hoary frostweed), Cunila origanoides, Pluchea odorata, P. foetida, P. camphorata. Additionally, it has been occasionally reported on the lower stems of various other species, including some in Lamiaceae, Verbenaceae, Apocynaceae.” Ice formations in plants turn out to be well studied. links to the work of Dr. James Carter, who has examined ice in plants, dead wood, and soil. Plenty there to learn.

The other surprise in the swamp that day were feral hogs, a family with four babies! Buddy the beagle started to go all scent hound, so I assumed rabbits or deer. Nope. The hogs ran but I was pretty nervous, and we kept a tight leash on Bud. I’ve seen Old Yeller!

2018-01 Congaree Swamp NP-5867

Later we asked the rangers about them, and turns out the park is overrun with hogs. We were told a boar might “false charge” you while the rest of the band runs off. I’ve known hogs are a problem in just about every state but this was only my second encounter, and it made for an edgy walk back out.

South Carolina–wilder and more interesting than imagined.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2018 11:52 am

    Loved seeing your photos of Verbesina virginica in your post. So pretty. I haven’t seen them around my part of Oklahoma although I know it grows in our state. About the hogs, they are the pits in rural Oklahoma. Your post is a good reminder that winter isn’t completely through with any of us yet no matter how warm it gets. ~~Dee

    • March 13, 2018 4:37 pm

      Not through at all Dee! This weekend last year is when a big freeze hit SC and farmers lost a pot of peach crop. It even snowed a tiny bit! I remember vividly because we had just been to Magnolia Plantation garden the day before for a native plant festival and the weather was fine.

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