A Morehouse Parish cypress tree is older than the state of Louisiana.
In fact, it may be older than civilization as we know it.
Harvey Stern, coordinator of the Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy Program in New Orleans, came to examine a particularly large cypress tree in Chemin-A-Haut Creek earlier this month. “The Castle,” as the tree has been nicknamed by local outdoorsmen, measures approximately 20 feet in diameter and has a hollow cavern large enough to paddle a canoe inside.
Although high water made it difficult to determine the Castle’s circumference, Stern was able to take core samples to help estimate the tree’s age. He has since counted approximately 100 rings within one of the core samples, which measures only a little over one inch.
“This is an extremely old tree,” he said. “I feel pretty confident it’s at least 1,000 years old, based on how tightly packed the rings are. And that’s a conservative estimate.”
Placed in context, the Castle was living and growing in Chemin-A-Haut Creek around the time when the bow and arrow was introduced in Louisiana. The tree was already several centuries old when Europe discovered America and the first explorers ventured into this area.
Further analysis, and attempts to measure the circumference of the tree so that the number of rings can be compared to the radius, may determine the Castle is even older than a millennium.
A tributary of Bayou Bartholomew, Chemin-A-Haut Creek was overlooked by the 19th century timber industry and today boasts some of the oldest and largest cypress trees in Louisiana. The Castle stands in the middle of the creek and is only accessible by boat, which has likely helped protect it through the centuries. Stern said the extreme old age of a tree does not guarantee it legal protections.
“Unfortunately, old growth [trees] are not given the same protection as, say, endangered animals,” he said. “Protecting trees like this is one of the reasons we want to bring attention to them.”
The Castle’s proximity to Chemin-A-Haut State Park may also aid in its preservation.
Based on the Castle’s size, Stern was previously able to designate it as one of six trees in Louisiana that was “Alive in 1812,” the year of Louisiana’s statehood. However, he said, the conservative 1,000-year estimate makes it special even compared to the other Bicentennial trees, the most recent of which only turned out to be “just over 200 years old.”
“I would feel pretty confident this is the oldest [of the Bicentennial trees],” he said.
Information about the Castle will soon be posted to the Legacy blog at lapurchasecypresslegacy.blogspot.com.
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“That’s definitely a landmark. It’s a state, and maybe a national, treasure.”