Mysterious white puffs growing at SC battlefield are phenomenon called ‘hair ice’

A mysterious phenomenon known as “hair ice” erupted at a South Carolina historic battlefield Thursday, giving the appearance it had been strewn with litter, according to a South Carolina State Parks Facebook post.

Photos posted by state officials showed a field dotted with white tissues that, on closer inspection, proved to be ice formations, the post said.

The formations, also known as “ice flowers,” were found at Musgrove Mill, a state historic site devoted to the Revolutionary War’s bloody Battle of Musgrove Mill in 1780.

South Carolina officials posted multiple photos of the formations Thursday, and they were shared more than 3,600 times.

“This frost occurrence happens during humid winter nights, when the temperature drops just below the freezing point,” said the state’s Facebook post.

However, the textures and formations only appear in places where you find a particular type of fungus known as Exidiopsis effusa, officials explained.

Adding to the mystery is the fact the formations often melt before most people see them, according to a BBC report.

Scientists remained baffled by the phenomenon until a few years ago, when researchers in Germany and Switzerland linked the silky strands of ice to a “cold-tolerant fungi” found on rotting wood, according to LiveScience.com.

The fungus not only feeds the formation, but it “acts as a hairspray by shaping the fragile ice hairs and keeping the strands in place,” the site reported.

The more rotten the wood, the brighter the ice formation, LiveScience added.

More than 450 people have commented on the state’s Facebook post about the ice, including some who noted the formations were also known as “Indian pipes” in some southern communities.

“My Dad (from the mountains of Buncombe County, N.C.) referred to this phenomenon as ‘Jack ice’,” posted David Ownbey on the park system’s Facebook page. “Possibly because it pops up like a Jack-in-the-box.”

“My mom had some in her backyard and we couldn’t figure out what it was!” wrote Taylor Emily on Facebook. “We thought it was trash or Styrofoam!”

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Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs