Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr., 62, of Dadeville, Ala., was arrested at the police station at 1:26 a.m. Thursday and was charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief.
He admitted to making two calls claiming knowledge of the poisoning but later denied actually poisoning the trees, according to court documents.
Dawson said Updyke arrived at the jail without an attorney and could face other charges.
"This person obviously has problems to do something like this," Dawson said at a news conference outside the administration building. Dozens of students and fans attended the news conference as the Auburn community mourns the apparently imminent demise of the trees.
Bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Updyke could face one to 10 years in prison. His court-appointed attorney, Philip Tyler, filed a motion to withdraw as Updyke's representative, citing his former job as a part-time Auburn professor and "numerous" family and personal ties.
Calls to Tyler were not immediately returned.
A man calling himself "Al from Dadeville" phoned a radio show late last month, claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks that are the scene of celebrations after Auburn's sports victories. The caller signed off by saying, "Roll damn Tide."
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore decried the poisoning as "a terrible thing to do."
Updyke admitted to calling the radio show and to leaving a phone message to an Auburn professor claiming knowledge of the poisoning, court documents said.
Police traced phone records to Updyke's house and said the person who answered there appeared to match both calls, the documents said.
Lee County District Attorney Robert Treese III asked District Court Judge Russell Bush to set bond conditions for Updyke, including that he stay away from Auburn's campus, not have any weapons "or any toxic or dangerous chemicals, substances or herbicides" and that he complete an anger management program.