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The Mystery of Cypress Knees

Cypress Knees

Cypress knees are a common sight in Wakulla County swamps and wetlands. These roots help support the tree in a wet and slippery environment.

Yes, the majestic cypress knee.. We’ve all seen (if not stubbed our toes on) them, but what is the purpose for these enigmatic protrusions from the earth? Parents are accustomed to giving their children advice, even after childhood has long passed for the offspring. The topic varies depending on a variety of factors. Age appropriate information and reminders are constant. There are also unique situations which require the dispensing of sage wisdom and shared experiences so the recipient may learn and improve.
One of the common and frequent reframes is general in nature, but has long lasting implications. “Son (or daughter)”, the advisor councils, “get a good foundation on life while you are young and you will flourish even in hard times.”
This truism works for youngsters in Wakulla County, and the plant population, too. It is the firm foundation or roots which assure the survival and prospering of the foliar resident. North Florida’s trees and plants are dependent upon their roots for several functions. While usually not visible to most area inhabitants, the roots emerge from a seed at about the same rate as the leaves and stems.
As the root penetrates into the soil it provides the plant’s system with a variety of benefits. The above ground structural integrity of plants and trees is dependent on the subterranean foundation created by the root system interacting with the soil.
The only reason local flora is able to soar skyward is the friction between Wakulla County’s sandy soil and the roots entwining between the grains. Whether it is a blackberry bramble or a 100 year old live oak, the roots hold it erect.
The bond is, in many cases, stronger than the trunk or stem of the tree or plant. Even tornados are unable to uproot most trees and plants.
A healthy plant or tree is much more likely to break in high winds as opposed to being uprooted. The exception to that generality is if the soil is saturated with water which will act as a lubricant and loosens the root’s gripping capacity.
Additionally the roots provide the plant with most of its nutrient and water intake. This is accomplished by the roots in the top six inches of soil, but not the deeper tap roots.
Many of these surface roots are fine and easily broken if the soil is disturbed by digging or an attempted transplanting. While these fine roots die and regenerate naturally, the disruption caused by human or animal action may prove fatal to the plant.
Once the moisture and nutrients are absorbed by the root system, some are stored by the roots for later use and distribution by the plant vascular system. The soil acts as insulation for the roots from the weather extreme and helps preserve the accumulated provisions.
Some Wakulla County plants and trees have specialized roots not commonly found. These provide a competitive advantage and may permit accelerate growth and colonization in less than ideal environments.
Bald cypresses growing in swamps and wetlands have “knees” which are really roots which rise above the soil and the typical water level. Sweet gums have propagative roots which project far from the tree and will grow shoots producing more sweet gum trees.
It all goes to prove a firm foundation is the basis for future success. It works for plants and trees as well as people.

To Learn more about plant roots in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931.

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