05 December 2007

The Land of Large Knees

I love cypress swamps. The Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, is by far my favorite tree in the world. I love the fibrous bark, the buttressed trunk, the smell of the leaves, and especially the knees. The largest specimen is found in Central Florida and has an 11 foot diameter. The cypress trees on my family's farm are not going to break the record but they are definitely a nice stand of ancient trees.

Cypress trees have incredible root structures. Cypress "knees," or pneumatophores, are cone-shaped extensions of the root system protruding from the ground. The pneumatophores are thought to function as the trees' means of obtaining oxygen for the roots during flooded conditions. They also help the trees stabilize themselves in the muddy swamps that they inhabit. The roots overlap creating a web of interlocking trees. This is probably why you don't find many cypress trees knocked over by hurricanes.

Here's Andy standing by one of the more impressive knees. You don't find many 6 foot plus root structures like this one. My family is very fortunate to have virgin cypress swamp on their land.

During our Thanksgiving hike we tried to locate the large cypress trees that you can stand inside. Years ago, my 6'4" brother found a tree that was completely hollowed out and had a small slit that you could duck into. We have a picture somewhere with him inside with just his hand protruding from the side. This year was perfect for our mission. The water levels of Black River are so low that we could walk across the normally 4 foot deep slough. Unfortunately, our mission to relocate the original tree was foiled but we did find this beauty that opened up on one side.

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