Snowflake Field Guide Part 1 – Snowflake Classification

When your Spatial & Stellar Dendrites are piling up on the garden and it’s too cold for your Sectored Plates to melt, and Rimed Crystals are predicted, it’s time to learn more about them.

The 1951 International Snowflake Classification System
This system defines seven principal snow crystal types as plates, stellar crystals, columns, needles, spatial dendrites, capped columns, and irregular forms. To these are added: graupel, ice pellets and hail.

Stellar Dendrites
Stellar dendrites have six symmetrical main branches and many randomly placed sidebranches.

Sectored Plates
Like the stellar dendrites, sectored plates are flat, thin slivers of ice that fall to earth in a stunning diversity of complex shapes.

Hollow Columns
Columnar crystals are the main constituents of many snowfalls. These hollow columns are hexagonal, like a pencil, with conical hollow features in their ends.

Columnar crystals can grow so long and thin that they look like needles.

Spatial Dendrites
Spatial dendrites are made from many individual ice crystals jumbled together. Each branch is like one arm of a stellar crystal, but branches are oriented randomly.

Capped Columns
These crystals started out growing as columns, but switched to plate-like growth. This happens when a crystal is blown into a region with a different temperature.

Irregular Crystals
Snowflakes can have a hard life blowing about in a turbulent cloud, so that many arrive on the ground broken, ill-formed, and generally in bad shape.

Rimed Crystals
Snowflakes are made of small water droplets. Droplets that freeze onto a falling snow crystal are called rime. Sometimes a snowflake becomes just a ball of rime, called graupel, or soft hail.

Wilson Bentley was the first person to successfully photograph snowflakes.
The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection of the Buffalo Museum of Science is a digital collection of stunning, un-retouched images of Wilson A. Bentley’s original glass slide photographs. Wilson Bentley was the first to discover that no two snowflakes are alike.

When it looks like this out your office window (photo at top), thoughts turn to dendrite build-up. Years ago, as a direct mail promotion, I created a Snowflake Field Guide for the Buffalo Museum of Science. Each day this week, I’ll post some facts about flakes. It was originally intended for kids, but I didn’t know much of this info when I started.

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

0 comments on “Snowflake Field Guide Part 1 – Snowflake Classification

  1. I love this post. No matter how you name them, snowflakes are truly gorgeous works of art.


  2. Hey, I didn't know about the collection. Another thing to add to the list of must-dos when it's Buffalo Fling time. Kid level is just about right for me so I am sure I will be able to understand your posts!


  3. jodi,I'll take your stellar dendrites, sectored plates and even rimed crystals over the rest anyday. They look like flowers. Cold, bone chilling flowers.Ms. Wis,They drag out the collection every few years. They have some programming based on the collection, mostly for kids. Not sure how the collection got from his Vermont hometown of Jericho into the hands of the Buffalo Museum of Science. The Museum actually has vast collections of odd things – do you know we have the largest collection of antique cricket cages outside of China?


  4. Excellent way to present those characteristics. I've got a similar blog and I think you're doing an amazing blog, specially if we're mentioning the crystal types as plates and others kinds of things. 23jj


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