Summer Connect #2 – Trees With Knees

Whoa – trees don’t have knees! Do they?

Yes, and these trees with knees are named baldcypress. Their knees are limbs that protrude from the ground, not roots. The baldcypress is actually in the same tree family as the giant redwoods! They are of an ancient lineage, and like the redwoods, can grow to large sizes and have incredibly long lives. They are typically found in swamplands of the southeastern United States, but can be grown as landscape trees elsewhere if the soil type is adequate and water is plentiful. (I first encountered bald cypress on the campus of Oklahoma State University, at Theta Pond!)

The Baldcypress is the only tree known to produce knees. Scientists call these ‘knees’ pneumatophores, and their purpose is to help the trees pull in oxygen for their roots. Usually, this tree lives in waterlogged soil, or actually in water, so oxygen is hard to come by. Their root systems stay shallow, stretching over wide areas rather than going deep.

Typically, a baldcypress does not begin to grow knees until it is at least 50 years old! That means that big trees with hundreds of knees rising above the water or soggy soil around them may be hundreds of years old!  These trees can reach 100 to 120 feet in height and five feet in diameter.

Next time you are at a park or at a wet, forested or landscaped area, look for baldcypress. From southeastern Oklahoma all the way into Florida, you may find that their lower branches are covered with resurrection ferns and gray Spanish Moss. This tree is the state tree of Louisiana.

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