Category Archives: Hair Ice

More Frost Flowers, iPhone

We had the correct conditions for frost flowers (hair ice) two days last week: overnight Tuesday (with pictures Wednesday morning) and overnight Wednesday (with pictures Thursday morning).

This sort of clustering is common, because the clear day/cold snap (for us!) conditions required for frost flowers tend to cluster.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

Yesterday I talked a bit about the conditions that allow frost flowers and hair ice to “grow”; today I want to talk a little bit about photographing frost flowers, with a focus on my latest experience with the iPhone 15.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

I have been photographing frost flowers for a few years now. I saw my first frost flowers on a cold morning along the Elwha river in 2015. The following winter, I discovered them growing in our home woods in Port Angeles.

Elwha River frost flower, 2015, photographed with an iPhone 5

When we moved to Olympia, I was delighted to discover that our local woods “grew” frost flowers even more frequently than our Port Angeles woods. Since moving, I have been photographing frost flowers happily with an iPhone 10, sometimes in combination with a hand lens.

Olympia Frost Flower, January 2022, photographed with an iPhone 10

I was able to get some great frost flower pictures with my iPhone 10, and was generally delighted with its macro quality. However, it did tend to lose detail when there was any degree of light; it would all just go to white (as in the top of this picture).

When I got my iPhone 15 pro a couple weeks ago, I was initially extremely excited about its macro potential. However, a couple experiments with flowers had me concerned. This flush of frost flowers was my first opportunity to try my new camera (phone) with one of my favorite subjects.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

Overall, I’m very pleased with the results. The macro setting did not have the same issue it did with flowers. I think the flowers failed because the sensors got confused about what to focus on; with the frost flowers, it was a larger field of focus, so it didn’t get confused.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

The macro setting allows me to focus close-in at least as well as the iPhone 10 plus hand lens, which is lovely. They have also done some fancy footwork to take care of the whiteout issue that I often had with the iPhone 10. Each strand really stands out.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

Is it hands-down better than the iPhone 10?

Well… no. I love that it captures all the detail, and makes it easier to see the individual strands. But I think its focus has some issues, and everything winds up looking super crystalline (partly as a result of the lighting fancy-footwork). The pictures lose some of the satiny quality of the frost flowers.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

I feel like the best of my iPhone 10 photos were better than my iPhone 15 photos, but the conditions had to be just right. With the iPhone 15, I can easily capture the wonderful detail of the frost flowers, but the feel is a little different. And it can capture frost flowers that would have just been a mass of white in the iPhone 10, such as this candy-floss type.

Olympia, March 7 2024, iPhone 15 pro

Anyway, I’m generally pleased, but I really hope Apple fixes the macro focus issues before (botanical) flower season is here in earnest!

Late Frost Flowers

We’re lucky enough to live in a region that usually gets frost flowers (hair ice) several times each winter. This winter was weird, though — too warm, and then too cold, and then too warm — so I was starting to wonder whether we would get any really good frost formations.

We got a few, early, back in November, but we hadn’t had any truly good blooms.

Finally, on the morning of March 6th, we got a very good bloom! It was clear, and hit around 28F, which is perfect for “growing” frost flowers/hair ice.

Please note that the general frost flower commentary below is taken from this post from a couple years ago. All the photos are new.

Frost flowers (hair ice) form when there are sodden sticks that dip below freezing overnight. Around here, the sweet spot is ~28-31 F. It needs to be cold enough to produce frost, but not so cold as to freeze the stick solid.

The ice forms on the surface of the stick, and is extruded as it freezes to form “hair” which can take beautiful forms that look like silvery locks or silvery flowers.

There is a fungal association with Exidiopsis effusa. Around here, there is also a clear preference for alder twigs and branches. I’m not sure whether that’s what the fungus prefers, or whether the wood somehow favors frost flower formation.

Frost flower and hair ice are two terms used semi-interchangeably. As far as I can tell, the distinction is mostly based on the type of formation. If it’s a burst formation (e.g. from the end of a stick), it’s a frost flower. If it looks like hair growing out of the middle of a stick, it’s hair ice. Even though most of what we get is probably more hair ice than frost flowers, I like the latter term better 🙂

Frost flowers and hair ice are relatively rare worldwide. They require specific conditions to “grow”. In climates with cold winters, you might be lucky enough to see a few in the autumns. 

Here in the Puget Sound area, the winters are mild and tend to only dip below freezing occasionally. We also have an abundance of alders. That gives us the ideal conditions for hair ice and frost flowers.

To see them, go out on a cold morning and check any local alder groves. They tend to be more common at the edges of alder groves, where the sticks are a bit more exposed… but that depends on the temperature range. On a very cold morning (25-28F) there may be such formations deeper in the woods.

They are most common on mid-sized twigs and branches (~1/2-2″ diameter), but occasionally they grow on larger or smaller branches.

Early Frost Flowers

We got our first frost flowers (hair ice) of the year on Friday. It is rare for us to get them before December: it requires a very specific combination of sodden sticks and cold.

These frost formations grow from alder sticks. The fine strands extrude from the stick as the surface freezes, so they truly do grow in a very similar way to hair.

I waffle between “frost flower” and “hair ice”; my current understanding is that the terms are semi interchangeable, and are more based on the type of formation than the actual process.

I admit I find “frost flower” a very appealing term, but this photo is definitely more on the “hair ice” part of the formation spectrum!

I periodically do posts of frost flowers/hair ice, since we’re fortunate enough to get them a few times each winter. Check for tags “hair ice” or “frost flowers” to find them!