The Senator, near Sanford Florida
The Senator, near Sanford Florida


We are saddened to hear of the loss of this magnificent tree.  First we heard it could have been arson, but then investigators found the fire started  high up in the 118 foot tree.  Possibly lightning that struck the tree and smoldered, and then burst into flames.  The drought conditions in central Florida make this a plausible enough scenario.  We will have to wait for a full investigation to be completed before we know all of the facts.

This Bald Cypress was the biggest and the oldest native tree in Florida and of its kind. For many Central Floridians, this tree has remained a constant; the most consistent natural feature of a dramatically changed landscape. Since Senator Moses Overstreet dedicated the land around the tree as a park in 1927, the area has become developed and urbanized.

We visited “The Senator” in Big Tree Park, north of Orlando  in 2008, and seeing this place has been instrumental in our ability to visualize and begin to comprehend what the old Florida must have looked like. Seeing this 3500 year old Pond cypress really put it in perspective for us.  To stand before a living being that was alive in 1500 B.C. is really astounding.  The grand stature of the tree, its width and height, added to the experience.  If something is going to be 3,500 years old, we would expect it to be big and memorable.

Upon hearing of the news, we are unsettled to know that we saw this tree in the very last days of its life and were unaware of any impending doom.  It is also sad to know that others after us will not get the same experience, now that the tree is gone.  The good news is that there is a much younger ‘sister’ tree in Big Tree Park, , the 2000 year young Lady Liberty.

In the bigger picture, what happened this morning will be examined and analyzed.  How natural of a cause was this? If it was totally natural, so be it, we just witnessed nature at work. If not, and it could be some time before we have an idea about this, this could be disturbing news.  What if it is not natural?  Why now after such a long life?  Do we have evidence of 3500 year old trees that died 100 years ago? 200 years ago? 50 years ago? How long before Lady Liberty suddenly burns down in two hours?

The Senator, near Sanford, Florida
The Senator, near Sanford, Florida




7 Replies to “THE SENATOR BURNS”

  1. I was very sad to hear of the Senator’s death. I remember thinking that tree was the biggest living creature I would ever see. I haven’t made it up to the Redwoods, so at this point, it probably is.

    1. Stella, we were also sad to hear about it. A guess a visit to the redwoods is in order for you. From my understanding, the giant Sequoias out in California are related to the Bald Cypress trees.

      1. I just looked at big tree park on google earth. The development in the immediate vicinity is astounding! lots of parking lots and large buildings with lots of roofs, just feet from the park! a tree that is thousands of years old, and suddenly in 50 years all of this is built right next to it, and then the tree burns down. Is it possible that the conditions that nurtured the Senator these past millenia have changed drastically enough to create the conditions for it to have incinerated the way it did? Changes in moisture perhaps?
        The google earth photo is worth checking out. Something to think about.

  2. All the sources checked seemed to indicate it was a pond cypress, but who knows, maybe they are wrong. Hopefully the roots will sprout new growth and the tree can be viewed as a living specimen again.

  3. The location of this tree leads me to believe it’s a bald cypress (as opposed to pond cypress). It’s a silt-rich flood plain, and probably a former flowing swamp in the time of the tree’s genesis.

    1. Mark, I contacted Mr Charlie Marcus from the Florida Forest Service, and here is a section of the the reply, which straightens out this issue. He has given me permission to reprint this.

      Dear Mr. Solomon:

      Thank you for your inquiry regarding the species identification of the Senator. I visited the Senator on more than one occasion, in the company of other foresters. Based on the morphological characteristics of the needles, I have concluded that the tree was indeed a baldcypress. The following links show the differences in the appearance of the needles between the two species. Baldcypress: Pondcypress:

      According to the cadre of scientists who help American Forests maintain the list of eligible “native or naturalized” species for the champion tree program, baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and pondcypress (T ascendens) are separate species. The National Plants Database, which is maintained by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, corroborates this perspective. On the other hand, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), which is maintained by the US Geological Survey, considers pondcypress to be a variety of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum var imbricarium). For purposes of the champion tree program, we will continue to recognize the two as separate species; however, there is precedent for declaring varieties as national champions in some species. For example, we recognize a national champion South Florida Slash Pine (Pinus elliotii var densa).

      I’m not sure how the news media got the idea that the tree was a “bald pondcypress” or however they phrased it. I understand that we may have had an unauthorized employee on site during the inferno last Monday morning who supplied erroneous information to the press, so I will apologize for any misunderstanding. Pondcypress tend to grow smaller than baldcypress. The current champion has less than 300 points in the American Forests measurement scheme, as opposed to 545 points for the Senator.

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