A collection of crystals

Some time ago, finding and photographing ice crystals became a winter project. There’s a story to my discovery of ice crystals, but first the images:


And here’s the story of how I got into tromping out into 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to photograph ice crystals.

1. Snowflakes – The prelude to my crystal story. Snowflakes are perhaps the most familiar ice crystal form – a hexagonal shape. Snowflakes form in the sky, but the most of the crystals that form on terrestrial objects have a recognizably hexagonal form. These snowflakes fell on a slender branch and are highly magnified.
2. The leaf and the star – The real start for my story is this image of stream ice. I’d been photographing the swirling, curving patterns on steam ice – but what was the spiky star at the bottom of the beech leaf?
3. Ice stars – When it gets quite cold,  under 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the icy surface of the stream sprouts stars:  crystal spikes that radiate from a center. Sometimes there are clusters of them, sometimes the spikes overlap, *matting the stream surface* with crystals.
4. Crystals on snow – When it gets colder, zero to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, crystals can accumulate on the snow by a stream. Some of the crystals have feathery shapes. The feathery crystals are the ones I love best. They are relatively rare, and need a combination of conditions to form. Lack of wind may be a factor. If it’s windy at night, stars and spikes can form instead.
5. Crystal feathers or ferns – An extreme closeup of a fern-like shape on snow at the edge of a stream. It looks like a snowflake, but it crystallized on earth from water vapor from the stream.
6. Feathers and ferns – The feathery shapes can form on twigs and other objects. This twig was above a brook.
7. Leaf crystals – A leaf on the stream surface with crystals at the edge. The ice crystals can be diverse – a combination of feathers, spikes, and rays.
8. Crystalline pipes – These hollow hexagonal pipes formed on a stem. This was taken in a field near a wetland.
9. Pipes on a frozen drops – Crystals can form on frozen drops if the temperature drops quickly from near freezing to a much lower temperature.
10. Plates on a grass blade – From the same field near a wetland. Crystals can form in clear hexagonal plates.
11. Foxtail frost – More plates on a foxtail in the same meadow near a wetland.

I keep going back in such ridiculously cold weather because of the variety of the crystal forms. They are like flowers, but unlike the more or less predictable succession of wildflowers, I only can only guess what I’ll find when I go out on a cold morning.

16 thoughts on “A collection of crystals

    • Thanks, Steve! When you asked about crystals in a previous post and I described what I’d seen, I realized it was time to show a group of the crystal types I’ve photographed. There’s so much beauty in winter in the northeast.

  1. It’s hard to find anything to say. These all are stunning. I had no idea there was such variety. The pipes were a special surprise, especially #8. When I looked at them, I thought of photos I’ve seen of pixie cup lichens.

    • I was thinking about you and Steve S. when I put together this post. In a recent crystal post, I listed the shapes I’ve seen. It’s so much better to show what I’ve captured over the years rather than just describe them. They are a wonder, you never know what you’re going to see when you go out on a cold morning.

  2. Splendid photo of snowflake. It reminded me of an old science film in which the narrator said images of snowflakes can only be captured through high speed photography. Not no more. 🙂

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