The Senator (tree)

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Adult male standing about fifteen feet in front of a 125-foot tree
The Senator in 2011
The Senator in 2012

The Senator was the biggest and oldest bald cypress[1] tree in the world, located in Big Tree Park, Longwood, Florida. At the time of its demise in 2012, 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.[2]


Looking up from the base of The Senator, 1967

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 height from 165 feet (50 m) to 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.[3] The plaque and portions of an iron fence were stolen by vandals in 1945 and never recovered.[4]

Fire and collapse[edit]

On January 16, 2012, a fire was reported at the top of the Senator tree, which burned from the inside out, "like a chimney."[5] 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.[5]

On February 28, 2012, The Florida Division of Forestry said they arrested Sara Barnes, age 26, in relation to the fire of The Senator. Barnes said she regularly went to the tree site when the park was closed. On the night of January 16, 2012, Barnes lit a fire with debris so that she could see, but the fire got out of control. Officials said that they found images of the fire being started on Barnes' laptop and on her cellphone.[2]

In 2014, Barnes was sentenced to 30 months in prison, with the sentence suspended if she could successfully complete five years of probation. However, in October 2015, Barnes was arrested again on other charges, violating her probation. Jailed in December 2015, she went to trial in March 2016. On March 31, 2016, Barnes was found guilty, her probation was rescinded and she was ordered jailed for 30 months, with approximately 10 months credit for time previously served.[6]


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.[2] 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.[7] 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".[8]

A clone of the Senator was located, and currently is growing at the entrance to Big Tree Park. The clone was provided by Marvin Buchanan. Buchanan had secured some branches after wind damaged the Senator and cloned it on his tree farm.[9]


As of 1993, the Senator was estimated to be 3,500 years old, making it the 5th oldest tree in the world.[4] The tree's volume had previously been estimated at 4,300 cubic feet (120 m3), but a 2006 survey by Will Blozan of the Native Tree Society has measured the volume at well over 5,100 cubic feet (140 m3), making The Senator not only the largest Bald Cypress in the United States, but also the largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi River.[10]

Lady Liberty Tree[edit]

Lady Liberty in 2007.

Located 40 feet (12 m) from where The Senator stood is another old cypress in the same Big Tree Park named Lady Liberty that was named companion tree to The Senator. It is 89 feet (27 m) high 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter, and is estimated to be 2000 years old; another one of the oldest trees in the world.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Seminole County Big Tree Park" (PDF). Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Campbell, Janie (2012-03-04). "The Senator: Sara Barnes Charged With Setting Fire That Destroyed 3,500-Year-Old Florida Cypress Tree". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  3. ^ "The Senator cypress tree at Big Tree Park",
  4. ^ a b c "The Senator - Florida's Big Tree". Floridata. Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  5. ^ a b Pavuk, Amy (2012-01-16). "Investigator: Fire that destroyed 'The Senator' was not arson". Orlando Sentinel. Tribune Company. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  6. ^ Stutzman, Rene (March 31, 2016). "Woman who burned down giant tree going to prison". Orlando Sentinel.
  7. ^ "Seminole County's 'The Senator' tree lives on in art". 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  8. ^ "Big Tree Park". Archived from the original on 2014-07-13. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  9. ^ Babcock, Isaak (2013-03-06). "Forgotten experiment resurrects The Senator". Maitland Observer.
  10. ^ "The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests". Eastern Native Tree Society. 2006-05-08. Retrieved 2012-01-16.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 28°43′11.2″N 81°19′52.65″W / 28.719778°N 81.3312917°W / 28.719778; -81.3312917