Grinch at work: one of arboretum’s rare conifers cut down, stolen

Ryan Garrison/UW Botanic Gardens
This keteleeria tree, photographed earlier this year, is the one that was cut and stolen this week from the Washington Park Arboretum, a part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Someone apparently wanting a free Christmas tree cut down one of the rarest conifers in the Washington Park Arboretum, a part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Ryan Garrison/UW Botanic Gardens
This stump is all that remains of a keteleeria tree, which had an estimated value of more than $10,000, that someone apparently cut down for a Christmas tree.

“We feel as if Christmas has been stolen from us,” says David Zuckerman, horticulture supervisor for UW Botanic Gardens.

It’s estimated that the tree, a keteleeria, was worth $10,400. Keteleeria trees are found in Laos, a few southern provinces of China and several other isolated places in Asia. The cut tree was considered “conservation material,” because it is under such threat in the wild, according to Randall Hitchin, the garden’s registrar and collections manager.

“It was rare in our collection and it is rare in the wild,” he says.

The Washington Park Arboretum, a city park where the UW manages the plant collections, received two keteleeria trees in 1998 from a Chinese sister institution that had grown them with seed from two different areas of China. The arboretum is now down to a single specimen of keteleeria, one that was not developing quite as well as the stolen specimen. Because the two trees were from different areas of China, Hitchin says the genetic material in each tree is distinctive and irreplaceable.

“With all the habitat destruction in China these days, there could be a hotel sitting where trees like this one once grew,” he said.

The keteleeria tree that was cut down was 7 to 8 feet tall and 3 inches at the base. It was between 12 and 15 years old. Its stump was discovered Wednesday.

Keteleeria have distinctive cones, needles that are long compared to northwest conifers and can grow to 130 feet. The one cut down is young and is spindly looking compared to the noble firs or groomed Douglas firs for sale this time of year so it won’t even make a particularly great Christmas tree, Zuckerman says.

Zuckerman and Hitchin want to remind citizens that cutting trees and removing plants from the arboretum is illegal.

“What may look everyday to you probably isn’t if it’s in the arboretum,” Hitchin says.

For more information:
Zuckerman, 206-543-8008,
Hitchin, 206-616-1118,

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