The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   Will Blozan
  May 08, 2006 09:54 PDT 

A recent trip to Florida allowed a trip to see the famous "Senator Cypress"
in Longwood, Florida, northeast of Orlando. The tree is preserved in a tiny
park simply named "Big Tree Park". It has the indignity of being caught up
in a dispute of whether it is in fact the largest baldcypress known in the
U.S., specifically its rank on the American Forests National Register of Big
Trees. A heated and (unprofessional) debate between the nominators of the
Cat Island Cypress in Louisiana (the current National Champion) and the
Florida Big Tree Register has made its appearance on the internet and in
numerous newspapers. Basically, the Cat Island Cypress is a huge flared
"turnip" with a hugely inflated girth due to buttressing. Furthermore, it is
a fusion of two genetically identical sprouts of moderate size, and as so
does not represent a single-trunked tree. In extreme contrast to the shape
and size of the Cat Island tree, the Senator is an absolutely HUGE
single-trunked tree with a massive trunk of slow taper and impressive
straightness. It looks more like the giant conifers of the Pacific
Northwest, evoking images of western red cedar.

The Senator Cypress Tree, Florida Postcard (Image1) old Postcard

American Forests will resolve big tree disputes if accurate volume
measurements can verify that one contending specimen is larger than the
other. This has been employed in the case of the huge sequoias and Sitka
spruce and perhaps a few other species. In fact, I was asked a few years ago
to visit and measure both cypress trees (via climbing) to determine the
"winner". I refused due to the obvious fact that the Cat Island tree was a
twin, and the Senator was so vastly larger. I think American Forests put up
a vote instead and the Cat Island tree won.

I had seen quotes of some volume estimates of the Senator and set out on an
online search for some numbers and more specifically, the methods used. I
found many different numbers listed ranging from ~3600 ft3 to 4217 ft3. Some
were apparently just for the trunk below branching. I found no reference to
a climber taking aerial measurements even though it has been climbed many
times. In fact, one of my former employees climbed it for cuttings for the
Champion Tree Project. The only methodology I could find was a study using a
Spiegel Relaskop. Although this instrument can be very accurate, the
measurer split the tree up into 16 foot logs to calculate volume. I
suspected that was not enough resolution to accurately assess the volume-
certainly not the portions above the trunk- so I returned armed with the

Since I have personally climbed the two largest known specimens of live oak
(~5100 ft3) and tuliptree (~4100 ft3) and measured the Webster Springs
Sycamore (~3150 ft3) I have a good idea of how large 4217 cubic feet is. As
I did the first time I saw the Senator Cypress, I kept exclaiming aloud over
and over how HUGE the tree was, and felt strongly that even the 4217 ft3
figure was low. I also found that a boardwalk and deck had been built near
the tree and extended to the neighboring tree. The neighboring tree,
formerly known as the "Senators Brother" was renamed "Lady Liberty" last
year after it apparently changed sex ;) The board walk provided a level
reference for all the trunk measurements and a clear line of site in
opposing 90 degree locations. It was a dream come true! However, the dream
had its downside- walking visitors shook the macroscope and the trunk was so
huge that it extended past the reticle scale! Because the subtropical growth
just off the boardwalk was so thick and blocked a clear view, I had to stay
put and "split" the scale readings based on a common reference point on the
trunk. This worked fine and I cross checked the readings when I returned
home by replicating the distance and scale reading. (Actually, the
"splitting of the scale tends to slightly underestimate the width, but I
used the actual calculated width in the subsequent volume calculations.)

Since I was able to measure the tree from adjacent sides I could ascertain
the potential for an elliptical shape of the trunk. It turns out that the
lower trunk was quite round but the upper section before branching was
fairly elliptical. I replicated measurements at specific heights and entered
the widths into an elliptical area calculator formula and converted the area
to circumference for the volume estimations. Before I did that I cross
checked my baseline distances to check my accuracy with the laser. I was
thoroughly impressed that the calculated horizontal distances were within
1.8 feet of each other from the east side and spanned an arching 2.6 feet
from the south side. This confirmed the obvious straight projection of the
trunk in one direction and the gentle curve in the other. For this reason, I
feel the measurements are very accurate and exactly reflect the observed
characteristics of the tree. The tight readings also indicate the roundness
of the tree trunk. I also remeasured the total height to 113.7', which is
identical to the reading I got from another vantage point three years ago on
my first visit.

The Senator is a huge tree, but has a short trunk capped by a twisted mass
of gnarly limbs. The highest point I was able to measure for volume was 96.4
feet above ground which was 17.3 feet below the highest tip. The main trunk
has a diameter of 11'3" at 4.5 feet (in sheer coincidence 11'3" is the exact
girth at the 96.4 foot height and the basal diameter is 17.5 feet, almost
the exact distance below the top!). My diameter measurements were taken
about 10 feet apart or at inflection points. There was surprisingly little
change between the points hence I felt no need to take more (i.e. closer)
measurements. Here are the numbers, adjusted for elliptical equivalents:

Position            Diameter           Height

Top                   0                      113.7'

Trunk                3.58'                 96.4'

Trunk                6'                      84.4'

Trunk                7.09'                 75.3'

Trunk                6.96'                 64.9'

Trunk                7.63'                 54.1'

Trunk                8.18'                 43.3'

Trunk                8.74'                 23.6'

Trunk                9.38'                 12.4'

Trunk                11.27'               4.5'

Base                 17.5'                 0'

These numbers, without limb volume, yield a whopping displacement volume of
5175.3 ft3, surpassing the Middleton Oak as the largest eastern tree. I
believe this estimate contains over 97% of the tree, since the cantilevered
limbs will hardly add much volume to the trunk figure. There is a
substantial reiteration on the north side that would bring the volume up to
over 5200 ft3. All parts considered I would say the tree scales around 5300
cubic feet, which is likely more than twice that of the Cat Island Cypress.
The Cat Island Cypress has a girth of 53'7", or 17' diameter at 4.5 feet.
Due to the extreme buttress flaring, the functional diameter of this portion
is far less, perhaps as low as 8 feet in "diameter". Most of the space
encompassed by the girth measurement is air whereas the Senator is ALL wood.
Using a conic frustum formula based on the estimated figures below, this
likely overstated scenario would scale the 83' tall Cat Island Cypress to
2028 cubic feet.

Diameter           Height

0'                      83'

2'                      60'

4'                      40'

6'                      20'

8'                      4.5'

10'                    0'

Based on these estimations, the Senator Cypress is obviously far larger. I
would love to visit the Cat Island Cypress and perform a basal footprint and
trunk profile map to calculate the volume of the twin tree. There are likely
hundreds of baldcypress trees larger in volume than the Cat Island Cypress
scattered throughout the U.S., including the "Lady Liberty" adjacent to the
Senator. Curiously, in a survey of the largest baldcypress in Florida, the
"Lady Liberty" was not considered whereas the other trees measured were
quite a bit smaller in volume than what I would estimate the "Lady Liberty"
tree to be.

I hereby cast my vote for the Senator Cypress to be the reigning National

Here is a website concerning the tree with links to others:

Will Blozan

RE: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   James Smith
  May 08, 2006 19:01 PDT 

I have been to see that tree several times. It always floors me. It's
good to hear that it is, indeed, the largest Eastern tree.

When I was a kid my dad and I went to see the tree with a fellow from
the Audobon Society. This was my first time seeing the tree and would
have been around 1970 or so. Even then, the guy from Audobon insisted
that the Senator was the largest tree on the East Coast.

Nice to know the old guy was right.

PS: The last time I went to see the tree we had to beat a hasty retreat
as we were being eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. I recall that my
arms looked absolutely hairy with them. No wonder we were the only ones
there that day!
Re: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern
  May 08, 2006 21:18 PDT 


Great to hear of your report. This is the first detailed assessment that I trust from this tree. It is also good to see that my measurements do not differ from yours very much for the first 25 feet and total tree height.

However, the upper measurements differ a bit - with mine being consistantly smaller for the upper stem. My number of 4,215 cubic feet was based in part on photographic techniques for the upper stem (since I did not have the Criterion 400 with me at the time), but also based in part of my judgement of the trees 'roundness'.

I saw fluting and concavities all the way up the stem, so my diameter measurements were trimmed a bit to take this into account.

While my measurements may be a bit low, yours may be a bit high. Even if you take measurements from different angles and use the elliptical formula for the frustums, this still does not account for concavities. I have climbed and measured many trees in the Cupressaceae, and find that these concavities cannot be ignored - they are too substantial.

Regardless, this tree has no peer within the other large Bald Cypress trees, certainly the Cat Island tree which is two smallish trees sharing a huge, common base. However, I would like to hear more about about how you dealt with the fluting and concavities before we proclaim this tree larger than the Middleton Oak.

RE: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   Will Blozan
  May 09, 2006 08:35 PDT 


True, the tree had some concavities, but not so much that I felt major
adjustments were needed. I am probably wrong on this, but since diameters
were blended the concavities may have either been taken into account or if
the diameters taken were on "ridges" then it would be overstated. I will
send some photos of the tree to Ed, and for a cypress, the trunk is to me
very round for the species. A climb would be the best alternative but the
trunk shape would still be a bear to figure out. However, I fully trust the
reticle measurements and a more comprehensive sampling in the winter with
(hopefully) better sightings from more locations would be the next best
option other than climbing.

How can you do a photo analysis and adjust for scale, distance, distortion,
etc.? Did you take the photos?

Re: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern
  May 09, 2006 10:35 PDT 


No one is arguing that the Cat Island tree is not one genetic individual. There are plenty of double and triple trees that are one genetic individual that ENTS has been sucessful at removing from big tree lists. There are whole groves of coast redwoods that are one genetic individual, for that matter.

Trees with single stems do matter.

Will - I took three tape wraps at three different heights near the base of the Senator and got nearly what you did - except for the ground measurement. My zero reading is considerably smaller than yours, as I was trying to take into account all of the fluting.

RE: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   Robert Leverett
  May 09, 2006 12:19 PDT 


Reference your point that "Trees with single stems do matter."

I assume that you are not concerned with whether or not a tree
branches a few feet above its base, just that it start off as single
stem. Am I interpreting you correctly? No fused trunks, right?

Re: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   Edward Frank
  May 09, 2006 14:23 PDT 

Bob and Will,

If the pattern of pockets and ridges around the perimeter were significant
in terms of the effective diameter of the tree, there are some
approximations that can be made. Consider that connecting the low points in
the circumference (concavity) would generate a minimum diameter for the
tree. Connecting the high points (the fluting) would generate the maximum
diameter for the tree. I won't consider how elliptical the tree is for this
discussion. if the valleys and ridges of the circumference were regular and
symmetrical around the mid-point between the high points and the low points
of the circumference (the 1/2 wave length for the fluted side would be equal
in length to the 1/2 wave for the concavity, like a sine wave going around
the tree) then the effective diameter of the tree would be almost exactly
equal to the diameter of the tree measured at this mid point (minimum
diameter + maximum diameter/2). You can't really measure the minimum
diameter, but the 1/2 wave lengths for the high side and low side could be
measured - There would be some variation depending on the concave or convex
shape of each portion - but approximately if the 1/2 wave lengths were the
same, then the negative volume for the concave section would be equal to the
positive volume of the convex bulging section. therefore the effective
diameter would be equal to the maximum diameter - 1/2 depth of the

If the the ratio of the lengths of the convex bulge and the concave hollow
were examined. If the ratio is 1:1 then they are equal as above. As the
ratio of 1/2 wavelength of the outer bulge increases with respect to the
concavity, then the effective diameter increasingly approaches the maximum
diameter. This would be the case if there was a tree with relatively narrow
deep notches in it. As the ratio of the concave portion would increase with
respect to the bulge, the effective diameter would approach the minimum
diameter. An example of this would be a tree with narrow ridges sticking
out from it like may be seen in some buttresses.

This doesn't give you a specific number or formula to calculate the
effective diameter, but does establish some minimums, maximums, and
guidelines to suggest where where in the range between the two extremes the
effective diameter should be estimated.

Ed Frank
RE: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests   Will Blozan
  May 09, 2006 15:00 PDT 

BVP, I was unable to access the base so I used the most recent measurements.
I would like to plug your numbers in to complete the calculations.


RE: The Senator Cypress is re-elected to top position in Eastern Forests
  May 10, 2006 11:08 PDT 


My basal numbers include data from three tape wraps and my interpretation of the portion near the ground. Using these the tree drop in volume a bit to just over 5K.


HT      Diam
0       16.00
1.75   13.77
3       11.86
4.5    11.27
6.5    10.13