Rare Tree Stolen From Seattle Arboretum The Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle is the scene of a crime. Staffers noticed Wednesday that the Keteleeria evelyniana, one of the arboretum's rarest trees, was missing. Only a stump remained at the spot where the 7-foot tall tree once stood. Randall Hitchin, the plant collections manager for the University of Washington Botanical Gardens, says the tree is a threatened species that resembles a conifer.
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Rare Tree Stolen From Seattle Arboretum

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Rare Tree Stolen From Seattle Arboretum

Rare Tree Stolen From Seattle Arboretum

Rare Tree Stolen From Seattle Arboretum

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The Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle is the scene of a crime. Staffers noticed Wednesday that the Keteleeria evelyniana, one of the arboretum's rarest trees, was missing. Only a stump remained at the spot where the 7-foot tall tree once stood. Randall Hitchin, the plant collections manager for the University of Washington Botanical Gardens, says the tree is a threatened species that resembles a conifer.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There is a mystery at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. Yesterday, arboretum staffers discovered that where one of the park's rarest trees once stood, there is now just a stump. Someone had chopped down a seven-foot tall conifer from China, known by its scientific name as the Keteleeria evelyniana.

Randall Hitchin is plant collections manager for the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, and he joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. RANDALL HITCHIN (Plant Collections Manager, University of Washington Botanic Gardens): Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: And when we say rare, how rare is this tree?

Mr. HITCHIN: It's quite limited in the distribution in the wild. It's a threatened species. It's a rare tree.

SIEGEL: What does it look like?

Mr. HITCHIN: It's a lovely distinctive thing for the, you know, brief passerby, you might say, oh, it's a pine. But actually, on close inspection, it's a much bolder looking thing. But in general aspect, it looks like a conifer: tall, dark green, symmetrical.

SIEGEL: Does it look like a Christmas tree?

Mr. HITCHIN: In the dark.

SIEGEL: And perhaps, somebody in the dark thought they were making off of the cheap one?

Mr. HITCHIN: I think that's probably what happened.

SIEGEL: I assume a bad day for the staff there, upon discovering that.

Mr. HITCHIN: Absolutely. Very disappointing day. We've been growing that tree since 1998, it came into the collection, bringing it along. It's formed up beautifully, and we had great hopes for it becoming a wonderful specimen in our collection for many, many decades to come.

SIEGEL: Is there any precedent for this, for somebody making off with - chopping down one of the trees in the arboretum?

Mr. HITCHIN: I'm afraid that there is. We've had a smattering of these things over the years. I think the last one was about four years ago. We're unusual in North America for gardens our size that we don't have a fence, which makes walking in late at night a little easier than most places.

SIEGEL: Who's responsible for there not being a fence? How did that happen that you're so accessible?

Mr. HITCHIN: Well, it's a political thing. It's vehemently opposed by our neighborhoods. So we stand fenceless.

SIEGEL: Fenceless, and´┐Ż

Mr. HITCHIN: Fenceless in Seattle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: The way your neighbors want it. So you could at least ask for a neighborhood tree watch in that case.

Mr. HITCHIN: I think that would be a great idea. We could get some of those folks out on those dark nights before Christmas, keep an eye on things.

SIEGEL: Now, will the local police be on the lookout for, you know, in the couple of weeks after Christmas, looking to see if any especially unusual-looking Christmas trees are being disposed in the neighborhood?

Mr. HITCHIN: The police have been notified. How much they'll actually be out on the beat looking for odd-looking Christmas trees, I really don't know. My suspicion is that it's probably going to be some very rare DNA that just ends up in a dumpster someplace after Christmas.

SIEGEL: If you were to find the tree now, I mean, is it done for, or could you do anything with it?

Mr. HITCHIN: Slim to nil.

SIEGEL: Slim to nil.

Mr. HITCHIN: Slim to nil. If we got it, if it had been handled very well - no, what would we graft it to? We have nothing to graft it to. No, it's done for. It's done for.

SIEGEL: The roots and the stump, I mean, will that yield a tree in another 80 years or something, or no?

Mr. HITCHIN: Some conifers will re-sprout from the roots. The pine family generally does not do that well, and I'd probably give it less than 10 percent odds of seeing any shoots come up in the springtime.

SIEGEL: Well, we're sorry for your loss at the arboretum, and thanks for talking with us about it.

Mr. HITCHIN: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Randall Hitchin, who is plant collections manager for the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. He spoke to us about the missing Keteleeria evelyniana from Seattle.

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