Ithaca, N.Y. — Sometime after a second Christmas tree was stolen this month from Cornell Plantations, local law enforcement decided to check in with some of the university’s fraternities.

“Every year, it seems, fraternities put live Christmas trees in their houses,” said Phil Syphrit, a gardener with Cornell Plantations, who added that the fraternities weren’t allowed to have these trees.

“Cornell police have looked into a couple of them. But those have not been the trees in question.”

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Last Thursday, Syphrit discovered that a 20-foot white spruce Christmas tree had been taken from the plantations, which he valued at over $1,200. Then, a few days later, Syphrit said, grounds crews found that a 3-foot red Cedar tree had also been swiped.

“They’re not typically grown on Christmas tree farms, but this one had a particularly nice shape,” Syphrit said of the Cedar tree. That tree was stolen near the Peterson Parking Lot across from the Dairy Bar.

The tree on the far-left, Syphrit said, is “virtually identical” to the tree that was cut down. (Phil Syphrit/Cornell University)

Cornell law enforcement is now offering a $200 reward for “information that leads to the identification and prosecution of the individual(s) responsible for the theft of trees,” according to a statement from the university.

Cornell also included the following gem of a statement:

“Would you steal a Picasso from the Johnson?  If your answer is no, then you shouldn’t steal a tree or even a plant from Cornell Plantations. For the past 70 years, Plantations has served as a living museum on Cornell’s campus.

It’s collections have been carefully cultivated to provide visitors with a world class public garden experience.  When a tree or plant is lost to theft it is like losing a unique work of art. 

Please go to your local Christmas tree stand to purchase a tree that was harvested for this purpose.”

Cornell University Police are currently investigating the theft and ask that anyone with information on the theft contact the department at 607-255-1111.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.