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

Nikola Simonovski

The bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) is a big, slow-growing tree which can be found in Southeastern parts of the United States. This long-living tree usually grows 30-35 meters long, with a diameter of 1-2 meters. It has a vital role in the ecosystem, so it was planted on every continent where the climate is hot. This tree was designated as the official state tree of Lousiana in 1963, and in 2002, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources gave this tree the status of Threatened and made it protected by law.

The oldest and the biggest bald cypress tree in the world was called The Senator. Standing  125 ft (38 m) high, it was located in Big Tree Park in Longwood California. The Senator’s estimated age was 3,500 years old, making it one of the five oldest trees in the world. The tree was originally 165 ft (50 m) high, but a hurricane destroyed its top in 1925, making it 39 ft shorter.

The Senator in 2011 Photo Credit

The Senator in 2011 Photo Credit

The swamp in the Big Tree Park is home to one other of these magnificent trees. Only 13 yards away from where The Senator stood, there’s another old bald cypress. This one is called Lady Liberty Tree, and it is 2000 years old, with a height of 88 ft ( 27 m).

Even in the time when the Native Americans roamed these lands, The Senator was considered to be a landmark. It became famous and began to attract visitors in the early 19th-century. Visitors had to leap from log to log to reach the tree, as a swamp surrounded it. The walkway that leads to The Senator was constructed by the Work Progress Administration much later.

The Senator got its name by Moses Overstreet, a Florida State Senator. Senator Overstreet donated the tree and the land around it for a park in 1927. A gesture of respect was also paid to the tree by the US President Calvin Coolidge in 1929 when the President visited the park and honored it by donating a commemorative bronze plaque. This plaque was stolen by vandals in 1945.

On January 16, 2012, this grand natural monument was sadly destroyed by a fire started by an arsonist. At first, it was thought the fire started after the tree got hit by a lightning, but later it was proven that the fire was started by Sara Barnes, a 26 years old crystal meth addict.

The Senator in 2012 Photo Credit

The Senator in 2012 Photo Credit

 

Looking up from the base of The Senator, 1967.

Looking up from the base of The Senator, 1967.

Barnes went inside the hollow base of the tree, where she lit some debris to create light and use her drugs. As she was unable to control the fire, the flames soon took over the entire tree, burning it to the ground. She was arrested on February 28 by the Division of Forestry. The police found images of the burning tree on her cell phone and computer. Barnes admitted that it was not the first time she went to the park, lit a fire and took drugs. Her last visit was fatal for this precious tree.

After this unfortunate event, the park was closed for visitors, and the park went through renovations. A new boardwalk was installed, a playground was built, and a memorial for The Senator was constructed. The park was re-opened on March 2, 2014.

Lady Liberty in 2007. Photo Credit

Lady Liberty in 2007. Photo Credit

After its destruction, a group of artists came to the idea to create various pieces of art to pay respect to the fallen tree. They were given permission by the Seminole County in 2013 to make vases, pens, flutes and sculptures from the charred remains of The Senator. Some of the items were sold at art shows, and the rest are planned to be part of a traveling exhibition.

Read another story from us: A woman lived on a 55-meter-tall redwood for 738 days in an effort to keep loggers from cutting down the 1500-year-old tree

There is a group of people that still believe that The Senator is alive as saplings have been spotted at the base of the huge tree. Park officials also stated that clones of the tree were made and one of these clones was planted on the place where The Senator stood. Symbolically, the clone was named The Phoenix.