Still the Champ

The state’s oldest known tree tops 1,000 years
It’s one of the disheartening realities of old age: When we’re old, nobody seems to appreciate us anymore. Sure, we were mighty popular as kids. But after 25 or 30 years of being young and popular, we opened our eyes one morning to find our existence doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

And so we’re history. Unless we manage to keep living and become ancient.

That’s when we become popular again.

For trees, that resurrection of popular respect takes a while, since many species of trees easily live 100 years or more. But if we managed to live, say, 1,000 years or more, we would enjoy a renaissance of popularity until that day we existed no more.

For the oldest known tree in Illinois, the 1,000th birthday party is already history. Nobody knows when it happened.

“It’s at least 1,000 years old,” naturalist Max Hutchison explained of this celebrated bald cypress tree that rises from the swamp of the Cache River in deep southern Illinois. After centuries of obscurity, this storm-battered survivor of ages has become a modern tourist attraction. A sign poking from the currents of the Cache proclaims its title to canoeists, and a handicapped-accessible boardwalk guides visitors from a Department of Natural Resources boat launch for a riverside view of this living history.

This cypress (also the largest specimen in Illinois) was cored some years ago to extract an age estimate, but the missing interior heartwood omits essential information. The longest unbroken series of annual rings they could get contained about 890 rings.

While cypress often live for hundreds of years, this relict from our long-vanished ancient world is unique for many reasons, including the fact it might never be topped in age by any other tree.

Visit the Illinois Big Tree Register for additional information, including a nomination form. Completed forms should be sent to the Illinois Big Tree Register, W521 Turner Hall (MC-047) 1102 S. Goodwin Ave. Urbana, IL 61801.

For a copy of the Big Tree Registry story Standing Tall, published in the November 2000 issue of OutdoorIllinois, see Illinois Periodicals Online.
By: Joe McFarland
Bald cypress cones
Close-up bald cypress cones
Bald cypress knees
Canoeists paddle past large bald cypress tree
Buttressed trunks of bald cypress in swamp