The Rarity of the Cypress Knees

6/10/2012 03:54:00 PM ·

I'm lucky enough to live right down the street from one of the tallest and oldest cypress trees in the world, the Senator. Unfortunately, the Senator burned to the ground a few months ago due to someone's negligence (a cigarette). Bald Cypress trees are known for their amazing heights and the size of their diameters, yet there is an aspect of the Bald Cypress, a bizarre scientific outgrowth, which has perplexed people for centuries.

The Cypress Knees, or the fairy chimneys as I like to refer to them, have a function that is unknown. They are found in wet, swamping areas, usually in muddy soil, and they surround the trees on all sides. Some people believe, and according to my conversation with environmentalists at the Osprey Trail in Seminole County, these fascinating towers provide oxygen to the tree's roots.

They also provide a foundation for the tree, considering most of the Cypresses on the Osprey Trail are found in muddy soil, close to Lake Jessup.

At first glance you would think you were looking at the chimneys in Turkey, but these projections are more like woody cones, set above the water level, horizontal to the base of the Bald Cypress. Despite the fact that there is no consensus on the actual function of these woody knees, many beginning science books describe them as pneumatophores. Pneumatophores allow these aerial roots to aid plants in oxidation in habitats that have waterlogged soil.

Regardless of their function, these specimens present a fascinating representation of evolution in the scientific world.

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Osprey Trail in Seminole County, Florida
Big Tree Park

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