GONZALES — Cypress knees on the grounds of a condominium complex in Gonzales have broken about 50 city water meters, entangled themselves with sewer lines and, though picturesque, generally created havoc.
A contractor hired by the city is working to get rid of them, but even if he’s successful, they’ll be back.
“We’re cutting them down and putting in sand, but we’ll have to keep doing it,” said Alvin Broussard, public works director for the city.
The bald cypress produces the knobby, cone-shaped structures from its underground or submerged roots. They pop up most often in swampy sites. If the cypress knees have a function, there’s no consensus on what it might be.
Broussard said he sought advice from the LSU Agricultural Center on the cypress knees before beginning work to corral them, but they’re pretty much unstoppable.
The Gonzales City Council will spend about $21,000 out of its water system capital outlay budget to remove the cypress knees growing in the public right-of-way at the Cypress Village condominiums on South Roth Avenue, off La. 30, and to replace broken meters.
The grounds of the condominiums are landscaped with the graceful bald cypress trees, a member of the redwood tree family and native to Louisiana.
Gonzales City Clerk Clay Stafford said Friday that about half of the 48 water meters broken by the relentless march of the cypress knees have been replaced.
A silver lining to the situation is that the new meters being put in are “radio-read” meters that employees can read from their trucks without having to walk up to the meter.
The city is gradually replacing all of its approximately 6,000 water meters with the new type of meter. So far, 2,000 have been replaced, Stafford said.
Jim Chambers, professor of forestry for LSU’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, said cypress knees can be cut off, but “they will sometimes continue to produce knees over time.”
He said for homeowners, a good place for a bald cypress in the yard might be away from the house, in a flower bed or in a landscaped area that doesn’t have to be mowed.
And to be fair to the bald cypress tree, Chambers said, “the root system of most any large tree can ruin things” by growing into water lines, cracking driveways and shifting foundations of houses.
There is a tree not native to Louisiana, the dawn redwood, that does well here and “looks to the untrained eye exactly like the bald cypress,” Chambers said.
The only difference, he said, is “it doesn’t produce knees.”