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Fairy Skirts for Christmas!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

 I've been going back and forth about the identity of the mint that's making those beautiful frost flowers in my gasline cut. First I thought it was American pennyroyal (Hedeoma puleginoides). Nope. Then I thought it might be Wild Marjoram from Europe (Origanum vulgare). Nope. All this attests to the difficulty of identifying a dry, apparently dead plant in December, and my peculiar mental block about it all.

Now, with the help of my Internet pals, I know it's Dittany (Cunila origanoides), and it's native to Ohio. 
Whoopee! I love a native plant, especially one that does what this one does in the dead of winter!

An early illustration of Dittany by none other than the famous early botanist William Bartram hisself! (Borrowed from

And guess what its other common names are? 

Frost Mint.


I'm shouting in all caps because this frost flower production is a THING and people, mostly old-timers like I am now NOTICED IT and KNEW ABOUT IT and I had to just stumble on it myself, wonder what these white things in the leaves might be, and go re-inventing the wheel, bumbling through trying to identify its shriveled stems, when all along there was this native plant with the common name of Frost Mint, which means that it is, after all, a known thing.
I love the feeling of others having walked on what I fancy are my private little paths of discovery. To wit:

For a lengthy, breathless and beautifully written treatise on Dittany, please see Ericka Galentin's gorgeous blog called Sovreignty Herbs at this link 
There's a lot of stuff about faeries at the beginning, with some boffo drawings, and then scrolling down a bit further, she gets down to brass tacks about this fascinating and beautiful plant. I have a freakin' Dittany ranch on my back 40, and am so pleased to know it! 

And Ms. Galentin is from Athens, Ohio! Squeeee!! There's magick (and moss, and fair folk) in these here hills. Who knows. I might even run into her, or a faerie, down in Orchid Holler.

On December 23, I woke up and saw a sunrise for the first time in a couple of weeks. It had been MOV gray here, with a beautiful snow and then rain and lead-gray skies for a week. And finally, here was the sun. Oh, I will take it. And the ice. Everything. 

The old bonsai, protected from bucks by a bit of Bill's grave fencing. He doesn't mind. It goes back to protecting the coneflower and liatris when the bucks finally drop their weapons in February. 

After walking the meadow, we headed straight to the gas line cut where the Dittany thrives and makes its magic. I had a feeling that the 5" of snow we'd had wouldn't have brought things to a halt, and I was right! 

December 23 and we still have activity!

And crazy shapes--long flower-fins stretching out!

Backlit by rare morning sun--mo betta--especially when the temperature stays low. You can see the stratae.
Notice how the dittany stem has broken off--the snow did that to most of them. Then the question becomes--will the stem still draw water as well if it's busted off? Looks like it. 

It's only going to make a frost flower below the break. 

As I photograph these things, there are a few things I particularly like. One is coils, and the other is when they come up out of mossy patches. This is a twofer.

I also like the ones that send out multiple fins--usually four. This may be because, as a mint, dittany has a square stem, so the fins are being extruded from each of the corners on the stem. 

I really like this one, but I have to keep telling myself it doesn't look like a tampon. Ha ha! And honestly, that's kind of what they look like when you first stumble on them. I always think it's trash, maybe Kleenex that dribbled out of my pocket, that I'm going to have to pick up, and then I look closer and start crowing in delight, before you know it I've been hobbling around in a semi-squat for an hour or more, making portraits of frost flowers. 

If you click on this photo, you'll see how many I have to play with in this one view. What a treasure trove!

A mature dittany plant has many stems (they're perennials, and the plants get bigger each year) and may make five or more fairy skirts. This one is an overachiever!

I like this one's style. 

This one reminded me of a ballet dancer on point. A Sugar Plum Fairy for Christmas. 

Continuing the Christmas theme is a festive black raspberry plant.

And now for my favorites--the fairy circles and hearts!

I love fairy skirts and frost flowers. 

This one has a bow!

More on moss...

The sun was beginning to melt them; the day's high was to be in the upper 50's, so I indulged myself and crunched a few down. It's a meager breakfast. I prefer persimmons, Concord grapes, apple and pear falls, but I'll take what I can get.

This is a swiftly melting fairy skirt. It has pulled away from the motherstem, and it's going translucent. 

It doesn't take much sun to melt away a frostflower! 

Oh no, please don't go! Phoebe had an early appointment in town and I was frantically texting her to hurry home and meet me in the gasline cut. I so wanted her to see this latest bloom before the show was over.
Liam has made the pilgrimage with me several times this winter, and he was still in Dreamland. You have to get out early to find frost flowers!

Curtis and I turned for home, to meet her. 

When she arrived, they were still blooming, though the ones in the sun were worse for wear.

Thank you for indulging me with all these repetitive photos of frost flowers, fairy skirts, elf tubes, and assorted ephemera. As a thank you, I give you Curtis Loew trying his first frost flower. Suspect it won't be his last. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year as much as we are!




Will look forward to photos of dittany in the spring.

Professor Sprout would be delighted!

How fun! And a good reminder to keep looking here.

Beautiful, love the frost flowers. May I change the subject?

A while back, maybe a year or more, you wrote about a heated dog dish with a thermostat you bought for the birds. Could I ask the brand or other features that I should look for? Thanks

@mamateach Google The Best Thing I've Ever Bought Julie Zickefoose--should take you to the post. Any larger pet store and certainly any feed store will have them.
Can't recall brand. Doesn't really matter. Heated pet dish.

Oh Julie, I'd love to go hunting with you for fairy skirts!! I had to enlarge every photo to examine every detail. What beautiful creations of Nature. I'm so glad that you recognize all the blessings in your life and are willing to share them with us. Thank you, thank you!

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