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Bald Cypress Knees & Ephemerals

Bald Cypress "Knees" with Snake's Head Fritillaria

Spring at London Town seems to be a symphony of ephemerals. Each bulb slowly coming out of dormancy, with some sending out new leaves first and others only flowers.


Snowdrops, Crocus, Daffodils and Hyacinths are some of the early ephemerals to emerge from the ground. Look above and within the bare woods you will find gorgeous blooms of Magnolias, slowly peeking out from the buds. Even better, each week more and more spring Camellias are blooming, adding depths of color to the woods of London Town.

Knee of a Bald Cypress

But as pretty as the blooms are, one tree that stands out and is most visible, even without any leaves is the Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum. At London Town, you will find a superb specimen of Bald Cypress growing in the lowest area in the gardens, the dell.

The bald Cypress 'knees', shallow outgrowths of the roots, till date leaves botanist inquisitive. Are they developed to aid in aeration, is it for mechanical support, is it simply a vegetative growth? There are many different hypotheses. "The genus Taxodium has been present in North America since at least the Upper Cretaceous, approximately seventy million years ago, but very little is known about when knees first developed and why"

The 'dell' garden area at London Town stands out in winter and early spring, even when the woods are bare. The 'knees' of the Cypress against the backdrop of the south river, makes for a delightful sight, reminding us about diversity of habitats and plant interactions. "On the Atlantic Coastal Plain, bald Cypress grows best in the bottom lands of "red water" rivers, which originate in the Piedmont and mountains and during floods deposit a reddish, nutrient-rich silt into the bottom lands. Growth is poorer on the less fertile, coarser textured soils of the bottom lands of "black water" rivers.

Snake's Head Fritillaria

In a few weeks, there were will another stunning ephemeral emerging from the ground, adding more depth to the bald cypress knees backdrop, the checkered Lilies, Fritillaria sps.

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