First Frost

The forecast called for today’s morning temperatures to be around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which triggered two things to happen. First, we picked a bunch of produce from the garden last night. Second, I set my alarm to make sure I could get to our family prairie in time for sunrise.

Frost, false boneset (Brickellia eupatoroides) and sunrise. (As always, you can click on this or other photos to see better versions of them.)

I arrived before the sun appeared and wandered around the frosty prairie, scouting for potential photo opportunities. I knew that once the sun appeared, I’d have to work quickly because frost doesn’t last long once the light (and heat) hits it – especially when the air temperature is barely below freezing.

Heath aster (Aster ericoides), still in bloom.
Western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya).

The first frost of autumn is always a special occurrence, but it’s even better when it comes with nearly calm winds and sunlight (as opposed to overcast skies and/or a stiff breeze that make photography difficult). The glittering prairie offered plenty of subject matter for my camera. In fact, it felt a little like the prairie was throwing me handfuls of popcorn to catch and eat. There were way too many options and not enough time to capture them all before the frost melted.

A robber fly thawing quickly in the morning sun.
Western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis)
Rosinweed seed head (Silphium integrifolium).
Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula).

False boneset was one of the more charismatic subjects this morning. Its fluffy white seed heads caught and held frost very attractively, and the sun filtered through those heads in a magical way. I kept switching between my wide-angle lens and my macro lens, trying to figure out the best way to capture what I was seeing.

More false boneset with a wide-angle lens.
A closer look at false boneset.
A late big bluestem flower.

I was a little surprised not to see more insects than I did, but I was also a little distracted by the sparkling prairie and might have missed some. I’ll be curious to see if the abundance of grasshoppers, katydids, flies, and other little creatures in the coming days is similar to what I saw last week. I’m optimistic, especially since our garden seems to have managed the frost very well. If our tomatoes survived, I’m guessing lots of insects did too.

A fly on sideoats grama after the sun had warmed it for a while.

This wasn’t a hard freeze, just a frost, so in addition to insect survival, I’m guessing some flowers will continue to bloom and cool-season grasses will certainly keep growing for a while yet. That first hard freeze will come soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll be glad to enjoy the autumn prairie – with or without frosty accents.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

4 thoughts on “First Frost

  1. Great photos. We had a solid 29 degrees here in western Iowa by Stone State Park, and although I was up before sunrise, I did not see any frost. Could it be because of our drought conditions here, and very low humidity? Enjoyed your photos.

  2. False boneset is having a big showing on prairie remnants here in northern Texas this fall. We don’t always get such a good display.

  3. WOW! You do know when and how to get those great photos and the early frost photos in the early am with bright sun are spectacular!

    Big Thanks for stunning photos.
    thanks

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