The 25-foot Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain pine was planted in 1988, and its theft drew widespread attention.
MADISON, Wis. — Police who were stumped by the theft of a rare pine tree from the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in November say it was taken by three 19-year-old students as part of a fraternity pledge.
The UW-Madison police said the three are in the former Chi Phi fraternity, which hasn’t been recognized as an official student organization since 2015.
A tip led them to the students, who they said admitted buying a chainsaw, renting a U-Haul and stealing the 25-foot Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain pine.
The tree was about 30 yards from a street that runs through the arboretum, a popular spot for walkers, joggers, bicyclists and nature lovers.
The tree was planted in 1988, and its theft drew widespread attention.
After learning how rare the tree was and that police were investigating, the students destroyed it and disposed of it outside of the city, according to the university police.
Each of the students has been cited for removing the tree, which is punishable by a $200 fine.
Though university spokeswoman Meredith McGlone wouldn’t discuss the students involved, citing federal privacy laws related to student discipline, she said students can face campus disciplinary action in addition to criminal sanctions.