What’s the Worth of a Single Tree Species?

Giant cypress knee
This is not the stump of an old tree, but simply one of the many knees on a well aged Chinese swamp cypress. (Photo courtesy Gretchen C. Coffman)

High in the Annamite Mountains of central Laos, among hill-tribe villages, grows the majestic—and critically endangered—Chinese swamp cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis). I’m here to find these trees, study them, and work for their protection.

Why is this particular tree worth protecting? I get this question a lot: from villagers in the area where the last wild ancient trees are still standing, from government officials, from colleagues and students, from friends and family at Thanksgiving.

Because I teach about entire ecosystems at the University of San Francisco, it’s usually pretty easy for me to explain the why an interconnected world of plants and animals functioning together is significant. But is a single species of tree really so important? I pause to reflect on this myself.

The Knee You Need to Know

What we call a “cypress knee,” and scientists call a “pneumatophore,” (the thing I tripped over a few years ago in Laos) is a root-like organ that trees such as the Chinese swamp cypress thrust up above the earth and then back down again in order —> Read More Here


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