Monday, December 7, 2009

The Trees' Knees

I'm from The South. A part of the south that many people don't consider The South, true, but that doesn't mean that I don't miss tropical rain storms and humid summer nights.

What it does mean is this: I had to have a vintage cypress knee lamp in the new house. Fortunately my mother had given us one years ago. Now, for the first time, we have a place to put it. So this weekend we bought a shade and finally unpacked it. Its mid-century kitsch quotient blends perfectly with our decor.

What exactly are cypress knee? Parts of the root that stick up above the soil, and often the water level, of marsh or swamp growing trees. What do they do? Well, they certainly aren't meant for lamp bases, but no one seems to know what they really do for the tree. One theory is that they function as part of the gas exchange mechanism, but the trees seem to grow just fine without them. It is odd, though, that they seem to appear much more often on trees that live in flooded areas.

Before laws were passed banning the cutting of the knees in wetland areas all manner of objects were made from them. Not just lamps; clocks, sculptures, candy dishes, you name it. But only one eccentric man held a patent on the idea of using them in this way: Thomas Gaskin. According to an article from, he actually opened a museum in Palmdale, Florida to showcase his knees, one of which is said to have resembled Josef Stalin. His knees were renowned for a satiny look, which he achieved by removing the wood fibers one by one with his tongue.

I doubt that my cypress knee lamp has such an exotic pedigree. But it does remind me of my Florida roots, and of the "old, weird" America that existed before I was born.


  1. Great lamp!!!
    His tongue, Wow and weird! I'm in North East Ark. and we have those here also. They are something to see.

    His tongue, ewwwwwwwwww!
    Have a great day.

  2. cypress knees are awesome they look like they may turn into little gnomes when the moon comes up!

  3. Love the lamp! And yep ~ Ewwww to the tongue!

    Maybe the cypress knees that stick up are trying to grab some oxygen for the roots in all that swampy water?

  4. Very cool lamp and also the knee photo. Like Magpie, I think the tree feels drowned and wants to breathe.

  5. P.S. Things were so busy here when the cat toys arrived, I forgot to tell you how great they are and how fast they arrived! They'll be the perfect Hanukkah present for someone(s) and their cats.

  6. What a cool lamp! I love that you gave the story behind it as well!!!

  7. Thanks everyone! Tapirgal, I'm so glad the toys got there ok!

  8. Love the lamp and the story! His tongue? Really?!


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