By Nancy Khan
The tree received its name, The Senator, and notoriety as a Central Florida landmark when Senator Moses O. Overstreet donated 6 acres, including the ancient tree, to Seminole County in 1927 for a public park thereby protecting the giant tree and the surrounding remnant of cypress forest. As a child I recall visiting the park with my family and I was upset to see that the tree made national headlines as it burned to the ground on January 16, 2012. Initial reports speculated that perhaps the tree had been ignited by a lightning strike, but within a few months it was determined to be arson and an arrest was made.
The Seminole County Board of Commissioners has recently decided to honor and memorialize the special tree by distributing any remaining pieces to scientific institutions and artists for continued public access. By deed of gift the County Commissioners presented the U.S. National Herbarium with a piece of this national treasure which is now part of the Wood Collection (US Wood #42707) where it will remain available for scientific observation. Stanley Yankowski, Manager of the Wood Collection, in acknowledging receipt of the specimen, remarked that “it is already one of our most unique specimens for its age, popular appeal, and scientific interest.”
The pointless loss of such a venerated tree is certainly regrettable, but recent news accounts also report that one of seven clones propagated by foresters at the University of Florida about 15 years ago will be planted at the Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida. Of local interest, the grounds division has confirmed that another descendant of The Senator was planted at the U.S. Capitol in the late 1980s as part of the collection of trees with historical or special significance. Each tree bears a commemorative plaque. The 40-foot tall bald cypress, a living offspring of The Senator, is near the settee adjacent to the sidewalk along Northeast Drive.