At 3,500 years old and 118 feet tall, a bald cypress tree known as the Senator was one of the oldest in the country and one of the tallest east of the Mississippi. The Senator, which stood in Big Tree Park in Florida until it burned down last Monday, was a beloved feature of the central Florida community. Many are shocked that the tree — which has withstood hurricanes, disease and the effects of urbanization — has finally fallen.
Lauren Wyckoff, an environmental scientist, told the New York Times, “It’s not just some tree in your backyard; I just picture everything it saw, everything it has been through.”
Investigators for the Division of Forestry have not yet determined the cause of the fire. Arson was at first ruled out, but now is being reconsidered in the investigation. Some believe that the tree could have been struck by lightning several days ago and smoldered from the inside, or that friction from the wind could have caused it to combust. The Senator was, however, equipped with a lightning rod, which makes the first theory improbable — and locals are unimpressed with the spontaneous combustion explanation.
Before Disney World was built in Orland in 1955, the Senator was the largest tourist draw for the area. More recently, families visited the park to picnic under the giant tree and school children embarked on field trips to witness one of the last specimens of Florida’s great ancient trees.
Whatever the cause for the Senator’s demise, it is a great loss for Florida’s nature enthusiasts. It will be missed. Now thoughts turn to ways to protect other great trees around the country.
Photo credit: Nicola since 1972