So, I spotted a post by Historian of the Strange on Facebook the other day. At first glance, it looked almost like a standard old-school sideshow advertisement. The creature depicted in it appeared to be some kind of dog, maybe a goat, with the strangest shaped head I’d ever seen.
Then I read the caption.
“Animal or Vegetable? This hideous object suggestive of ‘Cerberus’ of ancient Mythology or ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ of modern fiction, is an unusual form of vegetable growth occasionally found at the foot of the cypress tree and locally called cypress ‘knees.’ This specimen, blackened by age, which may well be over 200 years was found near Lakeland by an early pioneer–passed on thru several generations to its present ownership.Note traces of bullet marks in neck indicating that early hunters were deceived by its weird resemblance to some living quadruped.”
Are you telling me that trees spouting phantom dogs is just a thing that happens sometimes? Seriously? Needless to say, this was something I thought warranted further exploration.
Now, cypress trees are unusual enough already. They have a long reputation as a symbol of mortality, stemming back to the story of Kyparissos‘s grief upon accidentally killing his pet stag. The fragrance was reported to be the favorite of the Greek sorceress Circe. It’s retained these associations into modern magick, too, with uses ranging from consecration to necromancy.
So! Back to cypress knees. As it turns out, nobody’s certain why they happen. They’re most often observed in cypress trees growing in marshy areas, so it’s theorized that the knees may help either anchor the trees, keep their root systems aerated in the dense soil, or act in a similar fashion to buttress roots. The strangest part? Removing the knees doesn’t appear to affect the tree’s growth or overall health.
So, as far as we can tell, cypresses just occasionally pop out a crop of these creepy little tree-stalagmites because there isn’t much else to do.
Do cypress knees really resemble living creatures? It’s hard to say. In all the pictures I’ve looked at today because this is what I do instead of getting ahead in life, I haven’t seen any. Some appeared to be eerily humanoid. Others looked like the jagged grill of some long-dead monster. There were a few that reminded me of a supposedly haunted road I explored over a decade ago. We called it Devil’s Road and, while probably irritating the crap out of the folks who lived on it, we would drive down its perpetually foggy, lightless length in the middle of the night until we came to a lone tree called the Skull Tree. I don’t know what type it was — gods know I never stuck around long enough for a thorough analysis — but it grew in a meandering, twisting fashion away from the road, supported on a series of gnarled roots that grew in the shape of a grinning skull. According to local legend, some cult had kidnapped and sacrificed a child there by placing it into its mouth.
(Then I ended up on the same road in broad daylight once, and noticed that nearly every inch of the pavement was tagged by what appeared to be a legion of heavily intoxicated Juggalos. Kind of killed the creep factor a bit, as such things are wont to do.)
Cypress trees aren’t common where I live, particularly ones with great, big, knobbly knees. They’re a plant I find myself wanting to work with more and more in a spiritual capacity, and I absolutely love their scent.
You just gotta love that sweet, clean, Freshwater smell.