I have always enjoyed exploring the small one acre area of woods in my backyard. It has been a great place for walking the dogs, finding mushrooms to photograph, searching for insects or just seeing what I can find.
Even though I have lived in the same house for 26 years, there are always new things to observe. The natural world is ever changing and always filled with surprises.
By far, my biggest discovery over the last few months has been a strange white hairlike growth that has occurred on a few of the dead branches on the ground.
At first I assumed it to be a fungus. Mushroom growth has been especially prolific this year and I have come across a couple species that are new to me.
Whatever it was, this strange mass was fast growing. What was a bare branch one day, had up to 4 inches of growth the next.
In the past, I could not bring myself to touch this substance for fear of destroying the extremely delicate filaments. But when I finally did pull some of the “hair” off for closer inspection, it melted away to a pool of water in my hand. This was not a fungus, it was ice!
Although I had seen these strange ice growths several times over the last couple months, it had not occurred to me to get any photographs. And then last week, I found some more, and grabbed a couple pictures. The next day the temperature went from the high twenties to 55º.
The question that kept coming back to me is why have I not seen this type of ice formation before this year? Surely, the right temperature conditions have existed to create them. Why would they start now?
This seemed like the perfect question for an internet search. Here is what I found out:
• This formation is called “hair ice”, the same thing I had been calling it.
• Dr. Gerhard Wagner of Switzerland, has been investigating hair ice for more than 30 years. He theorizes that a certain fungus has to be present in order for hair ice to grow (that would explain why I have never seen it before this year).
• Though relatively unknown, this process was described as early as 1884.
• Hair ice forms when water is forced from wood pores and is flash frozen. The wood must be dead and have an absence of bark.
• The growth of hair ice has been reported only on a few specific species of wood including beech, oak, hazel, maple and alder.
• It appears that hair ice growth is limited to the areas of western Europe and the Pacific Northwest.
So, keep your eyes open. You never know what you will discover.
For more information and images go to: http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/ice/diurnal/wood/