Saturday, Nov. 19 dawned crisp and cold. I had stayed at the Shawnee Lodge in Shawnee Point out Park (Scioto County) the previous night to attend a assembly. The largest contiguous forest in Ohio, Shawnee Condition Forest, surrounds the lodge, and there are about 70,000 acres of wildlands to check out.
I left the lodge just before the crack of dawn. Within just a moment of departing, I was pleased to see a gray fox saunter across the road. Grey foxes have become much scarcer in latest many years, creating sightings of these excellent cat-like canids specifically noteworthy. Potentially the sophisticated fox was an omen of superior things to come.
My primary mission, nonetheless, involved inanimate objects regarded as frost flowers. For lots of yrs, I experienced heard about these icy ephemera but experienced however to clap eyes on a person. Nowadays would be the day.
The day prior to had been relatively warm, with temperatures in the mid to superior 30s. Scattered rains in the preceding days experienced dampened the ground. When I headed out in the morning, the temperature had plummeted to 12 levels. The disorders have been ripe for the formation of frost flowers.
Frost flower development
A frost flower is an incredibly sensitive ice sculpture that sorts all-around the bases of specific crops. In southeastern Ohio, the major producer of frost flowers is a little mint called dittany (Cunila origanoides). It is popular in Shawnee State Forest.
I headed for a distant ridgetop with very well-drained sparsely vegetated slopes – best dittany habitat. I understood from experience that dittany abounded at this web page. Inside seconds of arrival, I observed what seemed to be shards of whitish Styrofoam dotting the floor. Lastly – the fabled frost flower!
When frost bouquets don’t search like considerably from afar, up close they are spectacular. Wafer-slim icy curlicues resembling ribbon sweet cling to the bases of the dittany stems, forming all fashion of sculptures. No two are alike.
Just one ought to be mild all around frost bouquets. I rapidly uncovered, when hoping to pull intruding vegetation aside, that even the mildest perturbance would shatter the frozen rime. The observer must appear, not touch, to keep away from instant destruction.
Frost flowers variety when largely senescent host plants are nonetheless drawing h2o upward into the stem. Cold air freezes the liquid in the stem, producing longitudinal fissures. New drinking water is forced from these cracks, creating the amazing icy artwork.
The very first cold snaps of mid- to late November is prime time for frost flower formation. Not all suitable plant hosts will sort them the very first frosty night, so seekers may have a couple of shots at acquiring the icy “flowers.” Searchers need to get out early. The first sunshine rays speedily soften the frozen objets d’art.
Planting a frost flower backyard
Adventurous gardeners could possibly think about planting a frost flower backyard garden. In addition to dittany, other native (or virtually so) Ohio flora known to produce frost bouquets are Canada frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica), and wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia).
Canada frostweed will be tough to obtain in the nursery trade. The delicate tiny member of the rockrose relatives is not prevalent yard fare. The other two are effortlessly attained, but purists can just take take note that even though the southern white crownbeard takes place as much north as northern Kentucky, it has not been documented as a indigenous in Ohio.
A farewell to frost flowers
As the early morning warmed and the frost bouquets liquefied, I moved on to other photographic pursuits. And lo and behold, all-around 10 a.m. I spotted and photographed a female bobcat with two kittens. They had been the subject of my Dec. 4 column.
Apparently, that gray fox was indeed a good omen.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the 1st, 3rd and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about character atwww.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.