An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

December 3, 2008

Rest In Peace Big Mama

Sad news has come from the swamps along the Nottaway River. Big Mama, Virginia's largest tree has died. She was a proud Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) all of 123' tall with a trunk 35' in circumference. She died in her home, a 40 acre patch of virgin wilderness near the North Carolina border. While proper southern ladies never divulge their exact age, it was estimated that she was over 1000 years old, and some estimates even put her at close to 2000 years old. Though her age and size were impressive, I find the fact that there are still 40 acres of virgin wilderness left anywhere in this state, or even on the east coast more impressive. Left to mourn her departure are hopefully thousands of offspring and more than a few tree huggers. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to any effort that preserves wilderness.

For more go here.


  1. How sad, but remarkable that a tree can live that long in today's cut-it-down happy world.

  2. This is kind of a funny post. I have to wonder where else but her home will she die? lol So sad as I am sure she was really something!

  3. Amazing--I had no idea that there was any old growth forest left in your part of the world, Les. Thanks for posting this.

  4. In her 1,000 to 2,000 years, I wonder how many people actually saw here. Hopefully there is a photo record somewhere for future generations.
    Sounds like the makings of a good field trip.

  5. Love it...Thanks for calling attention to need to preserve and protect the wonder and beauty of trees!

  6. It's funny--my friend the Curmudgeon's first blog posting was about Big Mama (at wrote a couple of days later that the tree had died. Imagine being alive for 1500 years--we'd be, what?--back with King Arthur?

  7. Phillip,
    Let's just hope no one wants to turn her into Cypress mulch!

    I am going to try and visit her home if I ever find a Kayak expedition being offered.

    Apparently there are a view pockets of virgin wilderness left in the state, but there are even more that are original second growth where you wouldn't know the difference.

    This got a lot of press as it was and AP article. I found it in the Va. Pilot. Most of those accounts said that this patch of forest was not publicized until the early 2000's. I am not sure if it was a big secret, or no one knew it was there.

    Thanks for stopping by. I am all in favor of anything that preserves wilderness. Unfortunately the environmental issues facing this country did not even get lip service during this years election, too many other distractions I guess.

    I'll be checking out your Crumudgeon's efforts. Always glad to have another local voice. Before I wrote an "obit" for Big Mama, I googled historic time lines to see what was going on at the time of her birth. It was fascinating, but more info than I felt I could creatively use.


  8. How remarkable that she lived that long!

  9. Truly sad--maybe my blad cypress (3" circum.?) will some day be that wonderful. 40 acres is impressive, and yet still so small!

  10. Les, it's sad that Big Mama passed away but it's nice to know that there is still a place like Cypress Bridge swamp. There are still lots of amazing trees there. The Virginia Native plant Society sometimes has fieldtrips there. If I hear of another one I'll let you know. I've got some pictures of the forest at

  11. Racquel,
    Although I am not looking at a millenia, I do hope for a long life.

    Yes, 40 acres is not much in the grand scheme of things.

    Thanks for the Flikr link. I am ready if there is ever a trip there!

  12. Good of you to note her passing. It would be interesting for someone to do something memorable with her remains. Must be a lot of good wood in there.

    But since it's a wilderness area, better to just let her return to her maker - entropy and natural decomposition should be left to do the job.

  13. An excellent obit for a grand lady!

  14. Gail,
    I hope that is the last obit I write for awhile, but I know a lot of aged beings.

  15. Thanks for this. And I'm with you, I had no idea Virginia had any virgin wilderness left - 40 acres isn't much, but even that much surprises me! When I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, I remember going to an area that was claimed to be virgin forest - I wonder if there is any list of that sort of thing, by state? Perhaps the Virginia Heritage website. I'll take a look.

  16. Garden Wise Guy,
    As this wood is very rot resistant, she will likely be around a while. Her best after life use will be a home for many creatures, including woodpeckers.

    If you find any info on virgin wilderness, please let me know. Thanks to Phillip Merritt, I now know that this particular area is known as Cypress Bridge. Its location was not even published until the early 2000's.


  17. A bald cypress that big and old must have been a sight to behold. It would have been a massive tree even by the Jamestown era.

    I wonder if it's easy/hard to determine whether a tree like that really is dead or alive. One would think they'd wait until spring, just to be sure..?

  18. Hey Les,

    I found your blog while searching on line for information about forests near Williamsburg, Virginia. I'm wondering if you can help me out with a suggestion or two. I'm writing a novel set in revolutionary Williamsburg. A forest is vital to the story but I can't conjure up any memories of forests in that area from when I visited twenty odd years ago. Fortunately, I'll be coming back that way for a visit in May and would love to know where to go to see the best trees in the area. Where might you suggest I go? And where I might learn what trees were in those forests in the late 1700's...thanks

    (PS I'm a VT grad too)

  19. Hilary,
    I like to go to Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry Co. across the James River from Williamsburg. Much of it is open land, but there is a nice hiking trail that goes from the old house along the fields but ends up going through some wonderful woods down to the river. You may also want to try First Landing State Park in Va. Beach. It is more coastal but many of the trees are the same as you would have seen inland. They have miles of hiking trails through the forest. You may want to contact Wesley Greene with Colonial Williamsburg, he works in the horticulture dept. I do not know him, but have heard him speak and read several articles he has written. Lastly I would try to contact Phillip Merritt who commented on this post. He lives in Williamburg and is very active in the native plant society, and he would be a better resource than I would. Good Luck!