Pull It or Plant It: Frostweed

Nov 2, 2019 | Native Plants

Frostweed ice ribbons

MB: Recall the last two animals you saw. Now bring to mind the last two plants. Many people struggle with the second. It’s called plant blindness — and it’s spreading as we spend less time outside.

Enter frostweed, a nondescript plant that hides in plain sight until the first frost makes it explode into beautiful and bizarre ice ribbons. Then it grabs plenty of attention. People see it and say, “What is that?” “Was it there yesterday?” “Did someone throw plastic bags everywhere?!”

Yes, it’s kind of weedy. It’s right there in the name. But once a year it does something truly delightful, giving adults childlike excitement and kids an invitation to explore. Plus, this shade-tolerant plant is a major source of fall nectar for monarch butterflies, helping to fuel their southern migration.

We all stop noticing the world around us sometimes. Frostweed snaps us back into the here and now, inviting us to look closer and experience wonder.

AB: Where along the evolutionary train does it make sense to self-explode? Frostweed really outdid itself with the whole extruding-stem-water-as-ice thing.

Consider this native weed the plant world’s most outlandish one-trick pony, a party clown with an attention-grabbing gimmick. But like fainting goats bouncing back from their ridiculousness, these strange perennial plants more often than not keep on living after their Ice Capades.

Lucky for them, propagation by rhizomes gives most frostweed (in Texas, at least) a fighting chance against its own devices — even when ice-busted stems die, roots usually survive and sprout again in spring. That also means they spread like the dickens.

That’s a lot of drama without much return. Let’s just say there are more attractive, less weedy alternatives to this novelty plant.


MB: Sure it has unremarkable looks. Grow it in shaded, less manicured areas and thin it if it gets too rambunctious.
AB: Truth be told, frostweed is kind of interesting. And temperatures may cease freezing in the future anyway, so even this plant’s stems will thrive.