Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Verbesina virginica

It's rough and tumble wildflower time in my garden.

The take care of themselves Autumn beauties are beginning to bloom and our wildflower star, Verbesina virginica is looking its wildflower best, dressed in white flowers and wearing nature's late summer visiting jewels.

If you're new to Clay and Limestone, rough and tumble wildflowers are simple wildflowers that bloom their hearts out and require the easiest of care. Many have never been hybridized, which means they haven't had their best characteristic bred out of them.

Rough and tumble wildflowers, like Frostweed, are doing the job nature intended them to do, which is to make a lot of food (nectar and/or pollen) and bloom exactly when the critters need it. Once bloom is past and the seeds ripen, they become feeding stations for over wintering birds which seek out those seeds.

I know you'll agree with me when I say, nature's design is amazing.
landing pads of deliciousness
Verbesina virginica is a native herbaceous biennial/perennial in the Asteraceae/Sunflower family. It has clusters of white ray florets and white disk florets with noticeably contrasting purplish-black anthers.
Its leaves are dark green with rough surfaces and toothed margins and are oppositely arranged.

Its stem is distinctive in that it has wing-like flanges running along its length. If you live in its native range, you've probably seen it along roadways or in natural areas and parks. It can be found on streams and river banks, bluff bases, bottomland and upland forests, pastures, railroads, roadsides, prairies, and in forest openings. It is most common in areas with neutral or basic soils (Soil which is in the range from slightly acid to slightly alkaline, usually considered to be in the range of pH values from 6.6 to 7.3).
 seed feeding station of Frostweed, Rudbeckias, Cup plant and yet to bloom ex-asters and Goldenrods
 That means it's very happy, maybe, even too happy in my garden.

Verbesina virginica is a blooming magnet for all kinds of insects, including some insects that are themselves food for spiders, birds and other insect eating critters.

Bumble Bees love it. Green Metallic bees love it. Giant Carpenter Bees love it. Butterflies love it. In fact, it's an essential late summer/early fall nectar food for all visiting pollinators and it's an especially important food for the Monarch Butterfly. It's has been selected for monitoring by Monarch Watch an organization devoted to education, conservation and research about/for the Monarch Butterfly.

We all know that adult butterflies depend upon their host plant to raise their larval young.   Caterpillars won’t just eat any leaf and each butterfly species has specific plants that their caterpillars will eat. During migration blooming nectar plants are even more valuable to Monarch butterflies than their non-blooming host plants. Frostweed and other rough and tumble plants provide the nectar they need for energy to fly thousands of miles.
Flattened fruits have winged margins and two awns
Verbesina virginica also provides ripe seeds for over wintering birds that live in and stop by our gardens. So don't be so eager to chop them down in November. Let them stand until late winter or early spring.
Photo courtesy of Meredith O'Reilly

Verbesina virginica has many common names, three of which, Frostweed, Iceplant, Iceweed hint at something wintry about our star.

Aren't these ice candy ribbons incredible! They're provided by Frostweed.

Imagine a beautiful late fall day. It's warm, the sun is shining and Verbesina's roots draw water up into the stem. Late that night, temperatures drop well below freezing and the stems freeze, splitting open, emitting the plant juices, which immediately freeze into ribbons of ice that curl around the stem and the base of the plant!

Frostweed flowers will continue to form as long as the temperatures are cold, the plant juices are flowing and the sun cannot melt them away. The scientific term is capillary action, but, I think it's magic.

The Particulars

Family: Asteraceae

Common names: White crownbeard, Frostweed, Iceplant, Iceweed, Virginia Crownbeard, Indian Tobacco, Richweed, Squawweed

Native Range: Pennsylvania west to central Texas, south to Florida

Habitat: White Crownbeard occurs in prairies, in pastures, in forest openings, along streams, and on roadsides. It is most common in areas with neutral or basic soils.

Size: The stems are 3-8 feet in height and unbranched below the inflorescence. They have winged internodes, and are pubescent. The wings that make them easily identifiable

Bloom: Flowers are produced in heads. The heads are arranged in corymbs. Each head has 1-7 white ray flowers and 8-15 off-white disc flowers.

Bloom time: August–October.

Sun: Full sun, half sun, and, even fairly shady sites.

Water: Moist to dry

Maintenance: Weeding and editing, plants can become weedy, spreading by seed and from rhizomes.

Propagation: The fruit is a winged achene with two small bristles at its apex. Best planted from seed or if in a natural area allowed to self sow. Seed dispersal is by wind, animal or flowing water

Wildlife Value: Over wintering birds eat the seeds. Bumble Bees love it. Green Metallic bees love it. Giant Carpenter Bees love it. Butterflies love it. In fact, it's an essential late summer/early fall nectar food for all visiting pollinators and it's an especially important food for  the Monarch Butterfly.

Comments: Best in natural garden, along pond edge or if well managed in the background of a butterfly garden. 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 sap.

I adore this plant, but, I also weed it ruthlessly if it's crowding other more delicate plants. I can't imagine Clay and Limestone without Frostweed and the other rough and tumble beauties. Let me know if you want seeds, I'll have extras for sure.


Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. What a great wildflower! Can you believe I don't have this one in my garden? I need to add it immediately. Those frost flowers are gorgeous!

  2. Gorgeous flower and photos Gail :)

  3. Every time you mention this plant I get a bad case of the wants. I have yet to come across this plant or its seeds. One of these days I hope to.

  4. Hard to believe there is enough sap in those slender stems to make such long ribbons!

    1. Some nibbled flowers because we like to support life in our gardens

  5. Gail your photography is stunning ! .. The frost weed is amazing .. I had to Google it and see other images that were so beautiful .. truly look like intricate ice sculptures indeed ! Nature can outshine humankind every time ! LOL

  6. Well I never saw pix of Frostweed in its summer flowers! Even though I’ve never seen the frost flowers in person, I am definitely intrigued by them.

  7. Wow - those ice candy ribbons are amazing! I've never seen anything quite like it. Our rough and tumble wildflower around here is goldenrod - it's now in full bloom and the pollinators are having a Parteee ;)

  8. Dear Gail: Your blog posts and photos just keep getting better and better, and I don't know how that's possible because they've always been great. I'm just a little north of its native range. I think some folks try to grow it in microclimates around here. Like Margaret, my area is full of many species of blooming goldenrods right now. And the ex-asters ;-) are starting to bloom.

  9. Not exactly in my garden, but where I walk my dog each morning at the back of our property is a beautiful lake and its in full gorgeous autumnal mode at the moment. Some people may call Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), but for me it is the perfect autumnal architectural wild plant.

  10. Beautiful web page from someone who appreciates Ice Flowers. The process is Ice Segregation. It is the same process producing Needle Ice in soil. I have had this plant in my yard since 2007. See: http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/ice/flowers/


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson