A Tree and a Missed Opportunity

"The Senator" (photo: Florida Forest Service)

Today, January 20, 2012 is Florida Arbor Day, a day for revering trees and a great day for planting trees in our state. Unfortunately, Floridians are not in a particularly celebratory mood this week.

One of the world’s oldest trees (said to be the 5th oldest), a resident of Florida for purportedly 3500 years (not a misprint, that’s three thousand, five-hundred, folks) met its demise this week. “The Senator”, as it was known, is no longer.

This majestic Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), was discovered burning in the early morning hours on Monday, and despite valiant efforts by our firefighters, collapsed.

A sad ending (AP Photo) via news-journalonline.com

I’m particularly saddened because in my usual procrastinating way, I never visited “The Senator”, named after Florida Senator M.O. Overstreet, who donated the land for its home in 1927. That property came to be known as Big Tree Park (PDF brochure can be downloaded on that site).

When I first moved to Florida, I lived rather close and often passed by the park on shopping excursions and trips to visit with friends. Always with full intention of checking it out…soon. New York friends, who also moved here at the same time as I, had taken the time and the husband in particular showed such enthusiasm in describing the 118-Foot tree (1993) and often reminded me of what I was missing. Now, I don’t have the chance and I have profound regret.

There has been a lot of debate over the years surrounding this tree. Some say it is a Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens), some say it is the largest tree of its kind, others disagree. Suffice to say that it was a huge tree. Now there is debate about whether there was arson involved. I certainly hope not for that would be just too much to comprehend.

I prefer to think that Mother Nature gives and Mother Nature takes away. The Senator once stood at 165 feet but lost it’s top to hurricane in 1925. Fire is a way of renewal in nature. Planting a tree is another way of helping nature renew. Choose your trees wisely and plant at appropriate times for your state. Use your own state’s Arbor Day as a guide.

And my advice is to make the time now to explore the wildlife gardens beyond your own backyards. You may not get a second chance. May The Senator rest in peace.

© 2012 – 2013, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Is the stump being left in place do you know Loret? Whilst the level of damage looks absolutely catastrophic, ancient members of the redwood family like these are so tough it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Senator may reshoot (albeit less majestically) from the roots/stump and rise anew.
    tai haku recently posted..Pups on the rampage….

    • says

      I’m pretty sure that they will set up a memorial at the site, leaving the stump (which probably is itself worthy of a visit). The companion tree, Lady Liberty, which stands 89 ft tall and is estimated at 2000 years old is still there so “Big Tree Park” still has the elders of nature to visit.

      That would be really cool if it would reshoot. I didn’t know they did that! Thanks for stopping by.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Making a Comeback

  2. says

    3500 years!? Amazing! I would be curious if it did send up new shoots. I just love trees. I remember in Maine on one of our regular hikes there was a 200-300? year old spruce. I would always stop and touch it. I loved looking up into its branches. Will the park plant a new tree?

  3. Teresa says

    i’m so sorry…. my condolences… this just breaks my heart. even so, i want to thank you for the reminder that time continues to pass and we would do well to soak in this wonderful world around us while we can – because it (or us) may not be there tomorrow!

  4. says

    Loret I am very saddened for yours and our loss…what a majestic beauty…..grand in its old age…a marvel of nature…I mourn the loss of any tree but this is particularly sad….I will be planting at least 2 natives for our Arbor Day at the end of April. I will plant them in memory of “The Senator”…

  5. says

    If not arson, why would the tree have caught fire? Was it only that one tree that burnt? In summer we have many fires blazing across the Western Cape mountains. Yes the fynbos is adapted, but that would be to natural fires from lightning strikes or falling rocks. Not a discarded cigarette, a carelessly tended picnic fire, or plain and nasty arson.

    • says

      They are still investigating what caused the fire, Diane, and several thoughts are that it got hit by lightening a while back (since we haven’t had any in the area recently) and was smoldering. However, the tree was equipped with a lightening rod.

      Another thought they have is that because we haven’t had measurable rain in weeks and given our winds lately and the fact that the tree was hollow that maybe a part inside was rubbing and created a spark.

      They are battling several wild fires in Central Florida (tis our dry season), but really none were in the area ….closer to the coast.

      There is plenty of theory and speculation as to the cause and they are working diligently to try and find out since there is another tree in that park that is 2000 years old and 89 ft tall. They don’t want a second disaster if it was human related.
      Loret recently posted..Making a Comeback

  6. says

    So sad, Loret! I do want to add that around the neighborhood there are several large Eucalyptus trees which were cut down recently, to the point of being just a stump. Now, months later, all of them have new healthy shoots! I am overjoyed by this. Though, I suppose the folks that wanted to get rid of the trees are not. So, maybe redwoods can do this too.
    Kathy @nativegardener recently posted..On the First Day of Christmas, my Wildlife Garden Gave to Me..

  7. Portia V. says

    I feel terribly sad about what happened to that poor old tree. I hope people would work hand in hand to plant more trees and save our environment. When are you planning to plant your own tree?

    This is such a horrible news. But thanks for sharing it to the public.


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