A towering redwood reminds me of coastal California; a maple tree with blazing red leaves brings to mind New England; a palm tree means Florida; and nothing says South Louisiana like a Spanish Moss-draped cypress tree.
The Tchefuncte (chuh-FUNK-tuh) River flowing through our campground near Madisonville, Louisiana was a classic scene of perfect bald cypress trees, which are so common in this area.
These distinctive trees are beautiful, and mysterious as well. They grow in the South, Southeast, up the Mississippi River Valley as far as Kentucky, and on the East Coast up to Virginia. But they’re most common in the swamps and wetlands of Louisiana. In the Spring when their tiny new foliage emerges it’s bright green and soft as a feather.
And only when cypress grow near water do they develop the large tapered base and distinctive “knees.”
The function of these tree stalagmites is unknown, but the most popular opinion is that they help anchor the tree in soft, muddy soil.
Not only are the knees the perfect hunting grounds for wading birds, their dense branches festooned with Spanish moss save many a fish from the frying pan.
The wood from the cypress tree has long been valued for its water resistance. In fact, its nickname is “wood eternal.” In 2012, a team of divers discovered an underwater forest of cypress trees in 60 feet of water off the coast of Mobile, Alabama. They believe that wave-action from Hurricane Katrina may have uncovered the forest. Carbon dating on these perfectly preserved trees determined that they were 52,000 years old! They are so well preserved that when cut, they still smelled like fresh cypress sap.
Our first encounter with cypress wood was a special Louisiana time for us. When we lived in New Orleans, our small shotgun apartment in Uptown had cypress floors, doors, and mantels. The house was over 125 years old and the wood was in perfect condition. Wood eternal indeed.
James & Terri
P.S. And now for the fun stuff. Thanks to our friend Pam over at Naturetime, we learned that there used to be a Cypress Knee Museum in Florida. It’s closed now, but it lives on in this wonderful virtual site. Enjoy!