Beneath the Cypress Dome

Enter a cypress swamp all hung out with spanish moss, and you know you’ve entered an alternative universe. Makes this Yankee think right away of snake bites and alligators and (I admit) Blackened Voodoo Lager.

Cypress can live to be ancients, with lifespans of more than 1,000 years. The base of their trunks are wide with deep vertical folds that look like sinew flexed taught in support of trunks that taper gracefully to crown heights of over 100 feet. And, though no one knows quite why, cypress growing in swamps have knees—wonderful looking woody projections that poke up through the muck. Some are pointy and others have flat tops.

Pointy knees of the bald cypress (left), and dome-like pond cypress knees (right)

One theory held that the knees provided extra oxygen to trees growing in watery soils poor in oxygen, but tests have proven that the trees thrive even when the knees have been removed. Another theory is that the knees provide structural support. Whatever their function, they are wonderful to behold.

Cypress wood, sometimes called “wood eternal,” is extremely water resistant and prized for wood carving, paneling, and carpentry. Cypress bark is valued for landscaping mulch due to its resistance to rot. The tree’s heartwood holds up better than most, and folks still harvest sunken logs from the days when cypress swamps were clear cut and the trees floated to downstream mills.

Click here for a photo gallery of a Wakulla Springs cypress swamp.

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