Step 2: Meet The Senator
The Senator is a very large and very old bald
cypress tree. His scientific name is Taxodium
distichum. Along with the magnolia blossom, the bald
cypress is symbolic of the "old south". It is
commonly seen growing in swamps and waterways surrrounded
by knobby protrusions called "knees" and draped
with Spanish Moss.
Bald cypress has soft feathery leaves that turn
orange in fall before falling to the ground - unsual
behavior for a conifer (i.e. a cone bearing plant like
pine). The bald cypress's cones are spherical and about 1
inch in diameter which takes us to a point of confusion
surrounding The Senator. Several references state that he
bears cones that are 11 inches in diameter! I suspect
that this inaccuracy is due to an error made by the sign
painter a long time ago. It's a good thing too - that's
as big as a basketball and would pack a lethal punch
falling from The Senator's lofty heights!
Because of this height, he's been equipped with a
lightning rod for protection during storms. Look closely
at the picture at left and you can see the 1/4 inch
copper cable that runs the length of the trunk.
safely grounding him to the forest floor.
Even though he doesn't
produce 11 inch cones, The Senator is still a big guy!
The photograph is of the sign that displays his official
statistics. These are based on estimates made in 1946 by
the American Forestry Association.
The sign reports that the tree is 126
feet in height - I've been unable to confirm if any
measurements have occurred since 1946. The Senator was
said to have been much taller, at about 165 feet, prior
to 1926 when the crown was damaged by a hurricane and
reduced in height by more than 30 feet. Perhaps it is
time to remeasure and update the big guy's
"stats" - he's sure to have grown a few feet
over the last fifty-some years!
The Senator's trunk is 17.5 feet in
diameter with a circumference of 47 feet, Other
references report a circumference of 54 feet, perhaps
this is a later measurement? The sign also informs that
the the tree contains over 50,000 board feet of lumber.
But He's Not the Biggest...
Although the sign states that The Senator is the
"Largest Cypress Tree in U.S.A.", this is
unfortunately not the case. For one he is not a cypress
tree (member of the genus Cupressus) but a bald
cypress tree (genus Taxodium). Secondly, he's
not the largest bald cypress either.
In the middle of this century there was disagreement over
the Senator's heritage - namely what species is he? In
the 1950s it was determined that the tree was not a bald
cypress (Taxodium distichum) but rather a pond
cypress (Taxodium ascendens), a very close
Once this reclassification took place it was determined
that not only was the Senator a pond cpress, but he was
the BIGGEST pond cypress in the world!
In 1954 the Senator was featured in the Saturday Evening
Post and described as " the largest tree east of the
Rockies". But around that same time it was reported
that The Senator may have competition from a bald cypress
in Southern Mexico that was reported by a Missouri timber
engineer to be 140 feeet tall and 39 feet in diameter
(measured 40" above the ground) and least 4000 years
old - at the time believed to be the oldest living thing
on earth. There is also a competitor in Weakley County
In 1964, an article in the Tallahassee paper reported a
dispute over whether The Senator is a bald cypress or a
pond cypress. At that time it was reocgnized as the
largest living Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens) in the
world by the American Forestry Association.
During the last 30 years The Senator was once again
classified as bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). And we
love him anyway even if he's not the largest.
And He's Old - Really
Senator's official age is 3500 years plus or minus a 100
years. Although this might not make him the oldest tree
in America it at least makes him one of the oldest
(ok, so there's an old geezer out in California that's
7000 years old but he's just a scrawny little bristlecomb
One reference states that an "increment borer"
was used by the Department of Forestry to remove a core
sample from the trunk. From this core the tree's annual
growth rings were counted to come to a very accurate
measurement of age. Other references indicate that this
age is an estimate made in 1936 by the American Forestry
Association. Estimate or not it is a certainity that this
tree sprouted during the period when the Egyptians were
raising their first pyraminds along the Nile. At 15
centuries the Senator was already a forest giant when
Christ was born. And by the time Ponce de Leon explored
Florida this tree was a 3,000 year old landmark that
looked much as it does today, guiding the native people
as they traveled the nearby Saint Johns River.
The Senator Has a Companion...
over one hundred years ago, The Senator presided over
three other huge cypresses. The years took their toll on
two of the trees and the Senator now shares the Big Tree
Park with only one other big bald cypress - his name is
The Companion. He stands more than 40 yards from The
Senator but is always in his shadow - he is the Ed
MacMahon of the plant world. The companion has neither
plaque or sign, not many even know he has a name.
Companion plays host to some sort of instrumentation
package that resides in his crown. The apparatus consists
of an 8 foot (about) length of large diameter, white PVC
pipe situated vertically between branches. An antenna
lays horizontally across the top of the pipe. When first
noticed, I thought it might be a weather balloon's
payload or a scientific experiment or even bracing to
support a weak branch. I now suspect that it is nothing
more glamorous than an antenna for the county's dispatch
system (heck of a place to put it!) I have contacted the
county inquiring as to the purpose of this apparatus but
I have not yet heard back - I'll update this page when I
Step 2 of 4
Scheper Interactives L.C.