So What Are These "Cypress Knees" Anyway?

Other than the nemesis of fishermen and lawnmowers throughout the south, exactly what these protruding cypress tree roots bring to the biological table remains a mystery. The theories are out there; hunter gatherers of food and nutrients, a means of support, aeration, carbohydrate storage, all the way up to tree sexual organs. Yes, somebody actually suggested that.

Brings a whole new insight to the question "If a tree falls in the woods..."

In any regard, if you can't figure something out or explain what it does then why not cut it down and paint on it?

Now before all the "greenies" out there get all worked up, you should know that I’m not a force contributing to any deforestation or defacing ancient Louisiana landscaping. This is a heavily regulated industry and the few harvesters young and healthy enough to pursue this endeavor are not altering the wetlands on a noticeable scale. For starters, cypress cutting is only to be conducted on privately owned land and/or by those certified and permitted by the state. The cutting of knees does not harm the trees and in the water based areas the knees tend to grow back rather quickly.

The process is fairly simple but incredibly labor intense. In order to harvest a cypress knee one must trek out into the woods and swamps evading all things that might inflict harm; alligators, spiders, snakes and possibly other Cajuns. Once the knees have been cut with a chainsaw you boil them in water just like crawfish in a giant pot. After awhile the bark softens up and removes fairly easily. Much like an ear of corn, the bark peels off in strips revealing a beautiful, clean and unique surface.

Some harvesters like to dry skinned knees in a kiln like pottery while others prefer to dry them in a climate controlled indoor environment over a considerable lengthy amount of time. One thing that's agreed upon is the sun will dry them rather quickly, but the knees tend to crack and split a little more often. Thereby ruining your previous efforts and making them all for naught, joy.

In a nutshell, since terms like trespassing, state law, prosecution and fines are in the equation, "don't try this at home" takes on a whole new level. Here in Louisiana we have vendors and other antique shops that sell harvested knees to artists and tourists aspiring to unleash creativity. At least you can paint in the privacy of your own home or studio and not in a minimum or maximum security establishment.


Happy painting!

© 2017, Chris Melton DBA Meltdown Illustration/Skint Knee's