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Look closely and you can see a copper cable running the length of the trunk from the lightning rod at the top of the tree to "ground".
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 (Tillandsia usneoides).

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 in (2.5 cm) in diameter which takes us to a point of confusion surrounding The Senator. Several references state that he bears cones that are 11 in (30 cm) 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 in (0.6 cm) copper cable that runs the length of the trunk safely grounding him to the forest floor.

The Senator
Look closely and you can see a copper cable running the length of the trunk from the lightning rod at the top of the tree to "ground".
He's Big
Even though he doesn't produce 11 in (30 cm) 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 ft (38.4 m) 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 ft (50.3 m), prior to 1926 when the crown was damaged by a hurricane and reduced in height by more than 30 ft (9.1 m). 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 ft (17.5 m) in diameter with a circumference of 47 ft (14.3 m), Other references report a circumference of 54 ft (16.5 m), 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 cousin.

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 ft (42.7 m) tall and 39 ft (11.9 m) in diameter (measured 40 ft above the ground) and at least 4000 years old - at the time believed to be the oldest living thing on earth. There is also a competitor reported in Weakley County Tennessee.

In 1964, an article in the Tallahassee paper reported the 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) - but we love him anyway even if he's not the largest.

big tree's crown
The Senator is deciduous and his crown is bare during the Winter.
And He's Old - Really Old...
The 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 pine...).

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 reported age is actually an estimate made in 1936 by the American Forestry Association. Estimate or not it is a certainity that this tree sprouted about the time 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 Companion
The Companion
A little 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.

mystery stuff
I haven't visited the Big Trees in several years so I don't know if The Companion still wears this electronic headgear (wish I knew what it was!)
The Companion plays host to some sort of instrumentation package that resides in his crown. The apparatus consists of an 8 ft (20.3 m) (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 - please Write Us if you know.


Step 2 of 4

2/15/01; updated 2/10/04
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