Perennial with winged stalks. Wings are extension of leaf tissue. Flowerheads small, clustered terminally, 1–1½ inches across with few (1–5) ray florets, white. Blooms August–October. Leaves alternate, oval to lance-shaped, to 7 inches long, with short fine hairs above and hairier below, also with widely spaced, small teeth.
There are 3 other species of Verbesina in our state, but they all have yellow, not white flowers. One of these, yellow ironweed (V. alternifolia), is also particularly famous as a "frost flower" plant.
Height: to 7 feet.
Habitat and conservation:
Occurs on banks of streams and rivers, bluff bases, bottomland and upland forests, pastures, railroads, and roadsides. This plant is called "frostweed" because it often forms spectacular "frost flowers" in the fall, when a sudden overnight freeze causes the stems to burst and release quantities of sap, which freezes into intricate ribbons or flowerlike shapes that can be about 4 inches in diameter. Look for these formations early in the morning after a sudden first hard freeze.
Distribution in Missouri:
Scattered south of the Missouri River.
One of the most popular hobbies in the world is photography. It’s satisfying to make great pictures, but with nature photography, it’s great fun simply to be outdoors hunting for beautiful subjects, such as “frost flowers” on a bracing, clear autumn morning.
Members of the sunflower family that bloom late in the season provide nectar to many butterflies and other insects. The monarch and cloudless sulphur, for example, are butterflies that migrate south in late summer and fall, and they rely on plants like this to provide their nourishment.