Floridians love their distinctive trees and the state is home to more national champion trees (tallest or biggest) than any other state. Of the 751 species of tree with national titles from the American Forest conservation group, 111 are in Florida.
I will confess that Florida’s dominance is due in part to our geography and climate. The Florida peninsula extends so far into the tropics that we have lots of trees that are rare in other states but abundant in Florida.
Most Florida cities are very sensitive about its big trees despite the boom of housing developments, asphalt, and shopping malls. The land’s largest soldierwood tree guards the front door of a gift shop in Islamorada. A retired science teacher in Hupoluxo can’t use his driveway for he refuses to cut into the champion orange ginger tree.
Our top Strangler Tree
Sadly Florida’s most beloved tree – the Senator – died a terrible death in 2012. Located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, the Senator was the biggest and oldest bald cypress tree in the world. It was 125 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet. The tree was 3,500 years old – the fifth oldest tree in the world. Its 5,100 cubic feet of tree made the Senator the largest tree east of the Mississippi.
Then on the night of September 16, 2012, the Senator burnt from the inside out until only 25 feet of charred remains were left. A 26-year old drug user named Sara Barnes accidentally set fire to the tree while trying to keep warm. The last minutes of the tree are cruelly captured on her cell-phone.
While selected artisans made sculpture, pens, vases, and even ornate flutes from the charred wood of the tree, Park people discovered saplings at the base of the Senator. The Senator could be cloned. Today, the park still has the remains of the Senator, but nearby a child called “the Phoenix” is rapidly growing to continue the story of Florida tallest tree.
My favorite Florida tree is actually second in the world to a tree in Hawaii, but it has a great heritage. In 1925 tire king Henry Firestone gave inventor Thomas Alva Edison a four foot banyan tree. The tree, sitting at Edison’s Fort Myers lab is now a 62-foot monster with a wonderful 32-foot girth.
Nearby is the nation’s largest sausage tree (Kigelia Africana). Visitors to Edison’s Park are forbidden from walking under the sausage tree in case one of the huge, lethal sausages come crashing to the lawn. Still, people often run up to touch the tree. The tree is irresistible.
We Floridians just love our diverse collection of trees.