Those Sentinel Cypress Survivors of the Ocklawaha River, Florida
An Information, Opinion, Photos, & Sources Report
Compiled by Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca
With the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter, Roy R. "Robin" Lewis III, & K. Alwine
Photos by Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca, Captain Erika Ritter, & K. Alwine
Revised: 25 October 2013
NOTE: Click-on individual photos to enlarge them!
Another type of hunting is getting to be an obsession with me lately. Even Captain Erika has caught this "fever" too. We are searching the Ocklawaha River Basin for native ancient "mammoths"--surviving & very rare remnants of the past who have stood watch over this valley for eons. Could there possibly be another massive Taxodium distichum that has escaped our detection? Paddling our canoes & kayaks through tree-tangled creeks full of gators or swamp-stomping across snake-infested floodplain islands, this pair of river explorers seeks to inventory & photograph outstanding examples of the most enormous species that still lives here: BALDCYPRESS (or BALD CYPRESS).
My own best reckoning is that perhaps 100 or so of the old-growth, virgin baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) survive scattered in these Ocklawaha River swamps--spared by the loggers of the 19th & early 20th centuries because they were deemed too hollow to be marketable & lucky enough to have escaped being drowned to death by the defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal project's Rodman Reservoir. We have located about 30 of these giants so far & very few of them are visible to boaters on the main river. Nearly all exhibit sizable nesting cavity holes possibly used by wood ducks or pileated woodpeckers--& quite probably haunted by the ghosts of the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker. These cavernous wooden monsters with trunk diameters of 6-feet wide or more are maybe 600 to 1200 years old & are the "bulls" of these Ocklawaha woods!
Just how old & how big can a baldcypress get? "Baldcypress…an American wood", which is U.S. Forest Service publication FS-218 of December 1972 by H. E. Kennedy, Jr. & can be found online at http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/usda/amwood/218baldc.pdf contains the following: "In old virgin stands, trees sometimes attained an age of 800 years, a diameter of 6 feet above the swell butt, and a height of 120 feet. Occasional trees were as much as 1,200 years old, 8 feet in diameter above the swell, and 150 feet tall."
"The Senator" located at Big Tree Park of Seminole County's Spring Hammock Preserve near Longwood WAS the usually accepted Florida champion baldcypress tree (Taxodium distichum). I saw this tree myself in 1989. The park's information pamphlet describes "The Senator" as "3500 years...stands 118 feet tall with a diameter of 11.25 feet and circumference 35 feet." The Florida Division of Forestry webpage http://www.fl-dof.com/forest_management/champion_trees.html about champion trees states that "The Senator" is "the largest native tree in Florida…425 inches in circumference, 118 feet in height…" The article "Intriguing Trees" by Max Hunn in the October 1973 issue of Florida Wildlife magazine, attributed "The Senator" with these statistics: "2,800 to 3,500 years…circumference of 34.5 feet…trunk diameter of 10 feet 8 inches, measured 4.5 feet above ground level…stands 128 feet tall…" Most knowledge sources about "The Senator" note that the tree was much taller in the past--it has been "topped" many times by lightening strikes & wind storms. The Florida Photographic Collection, State Library & Archives of Florida, has online pictures of "The Senator." http://www.floridamemory.com/solr-search/results/?q=%22senator+baldcypress%22+AND+collection%3A%22Florida%20Photographic%20Collection%22&query="senator%20baldcypress"&searchbox=1
Searching the internet will reveal other websites with information about "The Senator" baldcypress.
NOTE: Important news updates about the 1-16-2012 FIRE LOSS of "The Senator" Florida champion baldcypress tree!!!
Capt. Erika & I now take a 50-foot tape measure, along with our cameras, on our Taxodium distichum hunts. Since we started doing this our three largest baldcypress trees have measured-in at 28 to 30 feet in girth or about 9 to 10 feet in diameter, at 4.5 feet above ground level. We keep our "eyes-peeled" for undiscovered ancient cypress sentinels, "ivorybill" ghosts, gaping alligators, & water moccasins displaying their "cottonmouths."
REFERENCE AS: Nosca, P. 2013. "Those sentinel cypress survivors of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" webpage report. "Ocklawahaman" website. Paul Nosca, Eureka, FL.