Losing the Senator Cypress

The 3,500 year old Senator Cypress.

One of the oldest cypress trees in Florida burned to the ground last January. You might have seen something about it on the evening news. In botanical circles this is a catastrophe. The loss of any ancient form saddens me and at 3,500 years old, the Senator tree was one of the world’s oldest living lifeforms. Imagine the experiences the Senator lived through.

This link to the past was severed by a drug-user who set the careless fire, took pictures with her cell phone as the tree burned, and then left the scene without even making an anonymous 911 call. Long-lived trees age from the inside out, the oldest interior wood rotting away over time. Once the hollowed out center of the Senator tree was afire, nothing could be done to stop the process. If you can stand to sit through the visual, you can watch the tree burn in this video clip. 

There are so few of these ancient giants left. It pains me to know the Senator was lost through utter carelessness. At one time, not that many decades ago, America was covered with enormous stands of trees, primary forests that would boggle the modern mind. Trees of such immense size and scale that their modern descendants pale in comparison.

The 17.5 foot diameter base of the Senator cypress.

The world’s remaining big trees are lovely, epic, and primordial. These giants sustain their own ecosystems, providing habitat and climate for a multitude of species harbored in their branches – sometimes hundreds of feet above the surface of the ground.

I’ve been fortunate to live and work in places surrounded by long-lived trees like Sitka Spruces, Bristlecone Pines, Douglas Firs, Coast Live Oaks, Coastal Redwoods, and the Giant Sequoias. These monstrous towering monoliths nourish and provide habitat for a multitude of plant, insect, and animal species. They are an integral part of environmental systems which have existed for millennia and are increasingly fragile. Experiencing true virgin forest makes you realize that the second- and third-generation old growth of today is vastly smaller.

Even giant Redwoods start small.

One of the deciding factors when we purchased our property in Washington was the presence of dozens of mature growth Western Red Cedars and Douglas Firs, in excess of a 100 feet in height. The previous owners accepted our offer because we were the only buyers who didn’t want to cut them down. We’ve added dozens more so that the cycle will continue.

I’m going to plant a tree this spring, a long-lived Western Red Cedar because they grow where I live. I’m going to do that in honor of the Senator Cypress. A small contribution, surely…but if every person who read this post committed to planting a single tree, in only a few years we’d have made a forest. A real forest.

Let’s make a difference. Do you have a favorite tree? Won’t you plant just one this year?

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  1. #1 by Traci Kenworth on March 8, 2012 - 5:23 am

    How sad the tree was lost to such unthoughtfulness.

    • #2 by Leslie on March 8, 2012 - 1:00 pm

      It’s so sad. Something that lived for such a long time and lost to carelessness. Sad too that the woman who started the fire is so caught up in the drug/fix cycle that she chose not to seek help.

  2. #3 by Naomi Bulger on March 8, 2012 - 1:04 pm

    Oh, this makes me so sad. Three thousand, five hundred years up in smoke. I can’t even begin to comprehend the silent witness that tree bore across millennia. What a tragedy.

    • #4 by Leslie on March 9, 2012 - 9:47 am

      Me too. It’s one thing to lose a living monument to lightning or other natural causes…it was a good long life, but how much longer might it have lived? The accumulated sense of age, just gone, is heartbreaking. I’d like to think that a 1,000 years from now there will still be some ancient trees linking the past to the present.

  3. #5 by Elena Aitken on March 8, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    SO sad to lose a tree like that. 😦
    I too will plant a tree this spring. A spruce. Hopefully it will grow tall and strong and witness many magical moments. 🙂

    • #6 by Leslie on March 9, 2012 - 9:49 am

      We can’t replace the Senator cypress, but who knows, maybe one of the trees we plant now will still stand when the grandchildren of our grandchildren come to see. Thanks for planting the future.

  4. #7 by Bridgette Booth on March 14, 2012 - 12:43 pm

    I hadn’t been aware of this happening. How sad, and stupid. They say we have a landscape memory – that which we grew up with is imprinted in our hearts somewhere so that we feel “at home” whenever we are surrounded by similar landscape. For me, that means trees. Lots and lots of trees. Not the big trees, but pine trees. As much as I cussed them while raking up the needles as a child, I do feel comfortable around them.

    I’ve wanted to plant some trees, and now I have a reason. Won’t be a pine, won’t be a cypress, but I’ll get one in the ground. 🙂

    • #8 by Leslie on March 15, 2012 - 6:03 pm

      I love the idea of landscape memory and can believe it. Thanks for adding to our forest! It might be a small one, but each tree makes a difference.

      I know the burning of the Senator cypress was an intentional act, but the carelessness is so discouraging.

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