#40: Cypress knee

Bird number: 63
Date: May 1, 2012
Wood: Cypress knee (probably Taxodium distichum)
Source: Gift from friend

cypress knee is a woody projection from the root of a cypress tree. There is no clear consensus on the purpose of these projections. It was thought that their purpose is to provide oxygen to the roots, but experimental evidence doesn’t bear that out. Another hypothesis is that they exist to provide structural support in the muddy soil of the swamps where cypress trees are commonly found.

Not surprisingly, cypress wood is very water resistant. Wood from prehistoric trees is mined from swamps in the Southern U.S. and sold for specialized purposes such as wood carving.

In wood carving, cypress knees are most often carved into wood spirits, Santa figures, or caricature faces. A Google Images search for “cypress knee” returns many examples of both. I can’t recall seeing any other kind of carving made from the cypress knee. Until now.

The wood is light and soft, and carves easily with a sharp knife. It finishes up beautifully, too, which makes me wonder why people paint it! To each his own, I guess.

I enjoyed carving the cypress knee. It got me to wondering if the trunk and limb wood are similar in character. Guess I’ll have to track some down and find out.