I awoke to sad and shocking news this morning: The Senator at Big Tree Park, near Longwood, Florida, burned to the ground early in the morning. Updated reports this afternoon point to the possibility of arson, which I find utterly inexplicable. Last June I visited The Senator with my friend and Rollins College Environmental History professor Leslie Poole. To stand in front of something that majestic and ancient, but still living, was humbling to say the least—a reminder that we, as humans, are mere blips on Earth’s timeline. It was an awe-inspiring visit, but today I am even more grateful that we went. The Senator was likely the oldest (3500 years) and tallest (116 feet) cypress tree in the United States. It used to be even taller. A 1925 hurricane, which blew across Central Florida, sheared the top off of the then-165-foot-tall Senator. There is another big cypress at the park: 89-foot-tall, 2000-year-old Lady Liberty is just a few more steps down the boardwalk trail from where The Senator stood. Big Tree—a Seminole County park is just east of County Road 427 on General Hutchinson Parkway, just north of Longwood.
Update, Tuesday January 17: Midday yesterday a Division of Forestry spokesperson announced that they had discovered kindling at the base of the tree and suspected arson. However, by mid-afternoon they had retracted that statement, saying that they had determined it was not arson but did not know the cause. One theory floated by the Seminole County Fire Department this morning is that a lightning strike from a storm two weeks ago may have started a fire inside the tree that smoldered for the two weeks, and did not become noticeable until it reached the top of the tree yesterday morning. No doubt there will be more theories in the days to come.