The Senator- The biggest and oldest bald cypress tree in the world was burned to the ground by a meth addict

Paul Pinkerton

Located in Big Tree Park,Longwood, Florida, The Senator was the biggest and oldest bald cypress tree in the world, At the time of its demise, it was 125 feet (38 m) tall, with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet (5.3 m). The tree was thought to have been destroyed by a fire from a lightning strike,but it was later discovered that the fire was started by an arsonist.

Looking up from the base of The Senator, 1967. Photo credit

The Seminoles and other Native American Indians who lived throughout Central Florida used this tree as a landmark. In the late 19th century, the tree attracted visitors even though much of the surrounding land was swamp; reaching the tree was done by leaping from log to log. A walkway was later constructed by the Works Progress Administration. In 1925, a hurricane destroyed the top of the tree, reducing its original height of 165 feet (50 m) to a height of 118 feet (36 m).

The Senator was named for Florida State Senator Moses Overstreet, who donated the tree and surrounding land to Seminole County for a park in 1927. In 1929, former US President Calvin Coolidge reportedly visited The Senator and dedicated the site with a commemorative bronze plaque. A photo that was published of Coolidge and his wife near the tree was reported by the Orlando Sentinel to have been doctored. The plaque and portions of an iron fence were stolen by vandals in 1945 and never recovered.

The Senator in 2011. Photo credit    

On January 16, 2012, a fire was reported at the top of the Senator tree, which burned from the inside out, “like a chimney.”Firefighters arrived to try to extinguish the blaze, but the tree collapsed. The charred remains of the tree now stand only 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 m) tall.

On February 28, 2012, The Division of Forestry said they arrested Sara Barnes in relation to the fire of The Senator. Barnes said she regularly went to the tree site to do drugs and lit a fire that night so that she could see, but that it got out of control. Officials said that they found images of the fire being started on Barnes’ laptop and on her cellphone. When an arrest warrant was served at her home she was also charged with possession of methamphetamine.

The Senator in 2012. Photo credit

Some people believe that the tree is still alive today. They have spotted saplings at the base of the big tree. Officials also said that the tree was cloned at one point, and they are searching to bring the clones back. In October 2013, Seminole County officials allowed a small, select group of artists and woodworkers to create works of art for the county from the charred remains of the Senator.

Artisans have created a variety of items, including vases, pens, ornate flutes, and sculptures. Some of the items have been made available for sale at art shows, and officials are working toward making both a permanent and traveling exhibit with some of the artifacts.

On March 2, 2014, Big Tree Park was re-opened to the public after being closed for almost a year after the fire that destroyed The Senator. A memorial was constructed which includes signage along the newly renovated boardwalk, a playground piece that mimics a bald cypress tree stump and a clone of The Senator that was planted near the playground. The name for the clone is “The Phoenix”


jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival