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Ice flowers in full bloom

Lake Mary, southwest of Alexandria, was covered with ice flowers on a cold, dry morning last Monday. Photo courtesy of Gary Bahn

They've been called ice flowers, ice ribbons, ice grass and frost flowers.

Whatever the name, they are a special sight to see -- and one that Gary Bahn of Alexandria captured on camera on Lake Mary on Dec. 17.

"I was going out to my fish house that morning, and I had never seen anything like it before on the ice," Bahn said in an e-mail to the Echo Press. "Then, a few days later on ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer, they had a quick blip with pictures of the same thing, taken up at the North Pole. They called them ice flowers."

They aren't actually flowers, of course.

National Public Radio (NPR) referred to them as more like ice sculptures that grow on the border between the water and air.

The ideal conditions for the "flowers" to bloom are when the air is extremely cold and extremely dry.

NPR explained the phenomena this way: The dryness pulls moisture off little bumps in the ice, bits of ice vaporize and the air gets humid, but only for a little while. The cold makes water vapor heavy. The air wants to release that excess weight, so crystal by crystal, air turns back into ice, creating delicate, feathery tendrils that reach sometimes two, three inches high, like giant snowflakes.

As a result, the lake blossoms.

Al Edenloff writes for the Alexandria Echo Press.