Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Big Trees

The Senator Today
Last winter an act of arson felled the 3500-year-old Senator pond cypress, estimated to be the oldest living tree in the US east of the Rocky Mountains.  It was both sad and horrible for many who live close by.  If you have seen the tree you know it was massive, at something like 5200 cubic feet of solid wood.  It started growing on Soldier creek about the time the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt and was already 3000 years old when Ponce de Leon explored La Florida.
My family and I have been to Big Tree Park a number of times and we miss being able to see the Big tree.  The Florida National Scenic Trail goes right by it on the Cross Seminole hike/bike trail, and I have bicycled right past it dozens of times.  Next to the Senator is another large and very old cypress tree, Lady Liberty, growing at 2000 years young.  As a result of the arson, the park is now closed.
Osprey Trail
Just so you know, there are several large and old bald/pond cypress trees sipping that same Soldier creek water a couple miles away in the 1500 acre Spring Hammock Preserve.  Just left off State Highway 419 about one mile East of US 17/92, Spring Hammock Preserve is a hydric hammock, a vital watershed and wetlands area adjacent to Lake Jesup.  It contains a few 1000 to 2000+ year old cypress trees where you can walk right up, crane your neck and feel insignificant.  To find them is an easy walk.
Park in the shade along the entrance road in Spring Hammock Preserve, and get a map from the porch of the Environmental Services Center.  Then walk north along the road to the cul-de-sac in a power line easement where the Florida Trail/Cross Seminole bicycle trail runs.  Go in beside the gate and follow the gravel Osprey Trail into the shade.  This trail/road leads to the education areas of the hammock, where fifth graders are treated to the famous shoe-sucking mud-walk.  Elementary school through high school age children are taught about nature here in classes throughout the school year.
Live Oak
Turn right at an old cypress snag onto Robin Trail, and follow the road a few yards to an old live oak tree on the right.  It is 35 feet or more up to the first branch, which is unusual.  Generally, live oaks branch out much closer to the ground but this one has an unusually straight and tall trunk.  The upper branches are covered with bromelaids and Spanish moss.  I didn't see any bird life in the tree today, but I expect it is home to a few feathered families.
Go back to the Osprey Trail and continue right, passing some trails to the left and a shelter (good for rain).  The trail is marked every 100 meters with a sign and the next one you turn at is 1000 meters.  Turn right onto the boardwalk and follow a few feet until you see benches to sit on.  I suggest sitting first so you don"t topple over backwards while looking up.  This cypress tree is estimated to be 2500 years old and it is huge!  It is 60 feet or more to the first limb and the tree has a large girth with a cavity above.  The different benches allow you to see more of the tree through the lower branches.
2500 Years Old
Once you feel insignificant, continue along the boardwalk to the next set of benches.  As you sit you will see why I call this the flute cypress tree.  There are multiple round holes in one side much like a flute, that woodpeckers have hollowed out to live.  I watched a few red headed woodpeckers flit around this one, generally not trespassing into another's condo.  A sign says to look for an osprey's nest in the top.  This tree is much smaller than the first one but is still near 1000 years old.
Go back along the boardwalk the way you came, maybe sitting for a few more minutes beside the first tree again.  It has been here since 500 years before the common era began and survived being cut for lumber during the cypress timber rush of our century.
Back onto Osprey Trail, going right again takes you from the mixed hardwood hammock into the hydric hammock past Question Pond, a natural sulfur spring.  Its light green color contrasts with the tannin color of the stream water near it.  Around 1500 meters look for a large cypress stump on the right, and at 1600 meters look for a large cypress tree on the left with a hollow at its base.
Trees Growing Out Of A Cypress
You should now be into the mixed hardwood swamp with standing algae-covered water on each side of you.  Just ahead is a boardwalk on the left.  Follow the boardwalk on its way to Lake Jesup, where it passes several large cypress trees.  When I was there the water was 2 feet below the deck.  Beware that sometimes the water level covers this boardwalk and some of the road.  Three red headed woodpeckers darted and flitted around the deck and from tree to tree.
The first cypress tree is adjacent to the right of the boardwalk and has both a full size palm tree and an Elm or Gum tree growing from different sides of the base.  This 2000 year old tree has another 1000 year old tree growing right across from it on the left side of the deck.
Split Cypress
Up ahead is a cypress tree with a split trunk, both of which are large and old.  Look for the multiple 5 foot high-above-water cypress knees on the left with another tree that splits.  A 1000 year old tree to the right has an osprey nest down low.  There are older stumps here also, some that are huge, looking like small islands in the swamp water!
A line of cypress trees lives here, a few are of the 1000 years old age group.  Think about all that has happened in our world since 1000 CE!  Way back in the woods to the left side you can see glimpses of a huge white trunk, maybe another 2000 year old tree?
Dark birds circle aloft when I get to the end of the boardwalk with a view of Lake Jesup.  Today it is windy and clear.
There is an Ibis in a tree by the road when I return, watching some food in the water below.  And it is a quiet walk back to the car.  If you are up to it, check out the boardwalks and trails to the right of the road.  There are some orange trees there mixed in with the palm trees and one very large pine tree.
Lake Jesup
Jim Dooby of Seminole County Natural Lands gave me the good news that they plan to reopen Big Tree Park next spring, celebrating Seminole County's Centennial.  The fire-damaged Senator tree is being carved into artwork to preserve it.  They are also protecting the Senator stump and the Lady Liberty tree from damage.  And they are relocating a 40 foot tall clone of the Senator from a tree farm in north Florida to the park, so the "Senator" will live on in Big Tree Park.  Very cool!


  1. Where's the 'Like' button on this blog?

  2. I'm sorry Steve, but I don't have a Facebook connection to this blog yet. I'm looking into it, but please don't expect anything soon.
    Thanks much for reading and please continue.