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Frost Flower

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Cunila origanoides
Lamiaceae (mints)

A low, much-branched, wiry, shrublike perennial with square stems and aromatic leaves. Flowers small, in tufts arising from leaf axils, purple to lavender, each flower with a tiny, 2-lobed upper and a broader 3-lobed lower lip. Blooms July-November. Leaves opposite, sessile, almost triangular with a broad base and a lancelike point, finely toothed. The green parts have a delightful fragrance.

Height: to about 1 foot.
Habitat and conservation: 
Prefers acid soils on dry, wooded slopes, borders of woods, shaded rights-of-way, prairies. Dittany is one of the few plants that form “frost flowers.” With the first severe freezes of a winter, water in the roots and stems is squeezed out of cracks in the stems and freezes, forming ribbonlike ice of amazing structures, the bands about 2 inches wide in elegant bows.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Occurs naturally in southern, central and east-central counties; cultivated potentially statewide.
Human connections: 
"Origanoides" means "like oregano," and this plant can be used as a culinary herb and in teas. It can also be used as a native garden flower for dry, sunny areas; its showy flowers attract butterflies. It can spread aggressively, however. In the past, the leaf tea was used medicinally.
Ecosystem connections: 
Butterflies, skippers, bees and other insects visit the flowers. The roots of this and hundreds of other plants help hold the soil on wooded slopes, preventing our heavy Ozark rain showers from eroding the land.
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