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 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.
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?