Florida’s “Methuselah Cypress”, “The Senator”
In a State of change, Big Tree Park bald cypress had endured over 3,500 years
Seminole County, Florida
In a land of over-development, highways and theme parks is a small preserve in Longwood between Sanford and Orlando where two huge ancient cypress trees grow. The elder of the two (“The Senator Cypress”) has been on this site for over 3,500 years. It was growing here when the Hittites sacked Old Babylon and ended the rule of the descendants of Hammurabi in that kingdom. That’s ancient! The other cypress (“Lady Liberty”) is younger and probably started growing here when Jesus walked the Earth as man. It is nothing less than a miracle to visit two trees of this age and size still growing in the middle of 21st Century Florida.
Update February 29, 2012, Sara Barnes, 26 of Winter Park, Florida admits to torching “The Senator”
Update April 26, 2014, Rachel Sussman’s The Oldest Living Things in the World
Big Tree Park is part of the Spring Hammock Preserve. When you enter this unassuming park you are directed to walk the boardwalk through a Hydric Hammock (a forest that is poorly drained or has high water tables and floods less frequently and for shorter periods of time than mixed hardwood and cypress swamps). You will see averaged sized laurel oak, live oak, water oak, swamp dogwood, magnolias (southern and sweetbay), tupelos, swamp maple, southern red cedar, sweetgum, blue palm, cabbage (sable) palm, wax myrtle, dahoon holly, ferns, sedges, grasses, and greenbriars. The soil here is very high in organic matter and supports dense growths of vegetation. The rich soil is kept moist by mineral springs that bubble up to form small streams.
Then, as you turn the corner on the boardwalk, you see them. You say “Oh My God!” as a reflex action. For Florida, the proportions of these trees are absolutely incredible. You will then begin to wonder how they survived the wraths of the ages. Are they like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents?
The largest of the two trees “The Senator” is a very large and very old bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum).
The Senator’s Statistics as estimated by the American Forestry Association in 1993:
- Age: 3500 years – one of the oldest trees in the U.S.A.
- Diameter: 17.5 feet.
- Circumference: 425 inch
- Height: 118 feet
- Board feet of wood: Approximately 50,000
- Flowers: Inconspicuous, hanging in long purple-green tassels, turning yellowish-red with age
- Foliage: Green needlelike or fern-like leaves
- Cones: Spherical 1″ diameter
- Wood: Tan color, very durable
- Cable: for conducting lightning to ground
How “The Senator” was named
In 1927, Florida State Senator M.O. Overstreet donated the tree and surrounding land for a park to Seminole County. The largest tree was named “The Senator” in his honor.
In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge and Mrs. Coolidge posed with “The Senator”. President Coolidge visited “The Senator” for the purpose of dedicating the new park. The President placed a bronze plaque at the base of the tree to commemorate the occasion.
In the 1930’s the WPA improved the site by raising the elevation in places to provide dry areas for picnicking and parking. In 1945 Coolidge’s plaque and the decorative iron fence were stolen by vandals and never recovered.
The park was operated by the local Jaycees for a number of years and in 1960 a bond referendum was passed to allow the country to acquire parklands. In 1980 the area was designated a priority acquisition by the Florida Department of Natural Resources and Big Tree Park became a part of the Spring Hammock Nature Park.
“The Senator” shares Big Tree Park with one other big bald cypress formerly known as “The Companion”. This tree stands more than 40 yards from “The Senator”. In 2005 students from the Geneva Elementary School officially named the tree “Lady Liberty”.
Statistics for “Lady Liberty”:
- Estimated Age: 2,000 years
- Diameter: 10 feet
- Circumference: 589 inch
- Height: 89 feet
Big Tree Park:
It is nearly impossible to take a picture adequate enough to show the true massive size of these ancient trees the FloridaGardener highly recommends a visit in person to fully appreciate the proportions of these forest giants!
- No admission fee
- Opens at 8:00 AM
- Closes at 6:00 PM from November to March and at 8:00 PM from April through October
- Picnic facilities (tables, shelters, grills)
- Restroom facilities
Source: Big Tree Park is located in Seminole County, less than a half hour ride from downtown Orlando. It is accessible by US 17-92, CR 427, General Hutchison Parkway, and SR 419. Look for the signs directing you where to go (Google Map).