ONCE THE OLDEST LIVING THING IN THE SOUTHERN UNITED STATES, OUR CYPRESS TREE, “THE SENATOR.”
How old is old for living things? Mountain ranges are very old, almost incalculably old. Salty oceans are ancient too, eons old as they say. Continents themselves, changing shape gradually over almost endless time, boast true senior citizen status with only puny human estimates tabulating their age.
But with living things, it is somewhat easier to speak in terms of age, as all living things seem to have shorter periods of existence, much shorter, than the likes of mountain ranges, foamy oceans and vast continents.
What would one say if I claimed to report that Central Florida recently, in January 2012, lost a tree to untimely death by fire at the lofty age of about 3500 years?
Yes, all true.
In Big Tree Park, in Florida’s Seminole County, lived “The Senator”, one of the oldest cypress trees in the world. An illustration of how long 3500 year is would help by comparison, in truly grasping how long a life that would be for a living thing.
Let’s see if a word picture can jolt amazement in that regard. Thirty-five hundred years. Wow!
Living fifteen times longer than America has been a country.
Living seven times longer than the time when Christopher Columbus spotted the New World.
Already growing and prospering fifteen hundred years before Jesus Christ walked our earth.
Do these age comparisons jolt awareness in incredible fashion that we here in Central Florida, during our meager sum of years aboard this spinning blue marble in the cosmos, were neighbor to something beautifully alive during the equivalency of fifty generations of human lifetimes?
Native Americans in Florida knew of its existence, using its location as a special meeting site. Early settles in Central Florida in the late 19th century knew of its existence, jumping from log to log across a remote swamp to visit its awesome presence.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s several happenings drew prominent attention to our stately cypress.
In 1926, a vicious hurricane, the one that halted the “building boom” in Miami, passed through Central Florida topping forty-seven feet from the top of our prized tree, reducing its height from 165 feet to 118 feet, injuring its majestic greatness, but not destroying it. The giant was named “The Senator” in 1927 in honor of Florida State Senator Moses Overstreet, who donated the tree and some surrounding land to Seminole County.
In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Lucy, while in Florida to dedicate the Bok Tower, also visited the newly named, “Senator”, dedicating it also with a commemorative bronze plaque. And, somewhat later during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the first connecting walkway was built to the majestic tree.
Yes, its wide attraction through the years, visited daily by gawking onlookers may have hastened its sad demise. That is possible.
Yet, miraculously, the proud tree reduced to smoldering embers in January, 2012, still lives. Some forward-thinking folks planted and nurtured clones of the venerable old tree. If that most thoughtful attempt and perpetuity succeeds, we will have a new famous cypress sprouting from seedlings of the ancient wonder.
However, none of us will be here to see the new tree grow up. That progression will simply take too long. Hopefully, though, future generations of humans will be able to chart its new glory, knowing and appreciating some of the legend of its storied grandeur.
Written for The Ole General Store
By Ed L'Heureux