The Senator, an ancient bald cypress

The Senator in its glory. Credit: Florida Big Tree Program

The world of champion trees was dealt a tough blow on January 16, 2012, when the ancient bald cypress known as The Senator fell to a fire. Though not officially a national champion, The Senator’s sheer size and age made it one of the most remarkable trees in the United States.

The tree — around which Florida’s Big Tree Park was created — had been estimated at around 3,500 years old, making it the oldest-known specimen of its kind. It was named after Florida State Senator Moses Overstreet, who donated the land on which it sat to Seminole County in 1927. At that point, all that was known about the tree was its immense size, but that was enough to make it among the top attractions for the area. Just two years later, President Coolidge declared the tree to be a national historic landmark. In 1946, the American Forestry Association (American Forests’ name at the time) took a core sample from The Senator and estimated its age. At about 3,500 years old, many experts believe the tree to have been not only one of the oldest in the U.S., but in the entire world.

The Senator stood 118 feet tall and more than 35 feet around — it fell just short of being a national champion, but claimed the state champion crown for Florida by far, which is no small feat in a state that boasts more than 100 national champs. A small comfort can be found in the fact that another tree from Big Tree Park is rising to fame. When the park was rededicated in 2005, officials found a companion for the still-standing Senator. A nearby bald cypress of impressive though not equal size was estimated to be 2,000 years old. With The Senator gone, the new tree — named Lady Liberty — is the oldest in the park.