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  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

Are These London's Finest Knobbly Knees?

Can we recognise these distinctive "knobbly knee" roots as London's finest?

I am not talking about body parts. I am sure any knobbly knees that may belong to our nearest and dearest will rank very highly on an individual basis.

Collectively, though, Alan Titchmarsh thinks these are the finest knobbly knees in London.

The knobbly, stalagmitish, roots belong to a fine group of Swamp Cypresses (taxodium distichum) that grow around the lake at Syon Park.

Swamp Cypress at Syon Park
Swamp Cypress at Syon Park

"Where the roots of the swamp cypress are submerged or in waterlogged ground, the tree will grow roots above ground known as 'knees' or pneumatophores, which can grow up to 3m but are usually much smaller.
It is thought that these knobbly roots act as snorkels by carrying supplies of air to the underground roots which may be starved of oxygen. They may also be acting as additional stabilisation for this large tree.
The swamp cypress is one of only a few conifers growing in Britain that sheds its foliage in winter. For this reason it is also known as the bald cypress.
The tree is a native of the south east of the United States, it was introduced to Britain in 1640 by the famous plant hunter John Tradescant the Younger." (Proper tree knowledge via Kew, more here).

I was at the inspirational Gardening Against the Odds Awards at Syon the other day. This annual event recognises the remarkable achievements of amateur gardeners who, despite many obstacles, have brought beautiful gardens to the unlikeliest of places.

Alan Titchmarsh was one of the guest speakers and he drew our attention to these marvellous trees during his speech.

He thinks they are probably London's finest examples, well, who am I to disagree?

Other Swamp Cypresses can be found in Kew Gardens and Bushy Park.


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