Charles R. “Chipper” Wichman, the president, director and chief executive officer of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai, has been named the recipient of The Garden Club of America’s 2018 Medal of Honor.
The medal, awarded since 1920 for outstanding service to horticulture, will be presented following a black tie reception at the GCA’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Sunday.
With the honor, the NTBG becomes the only botanical garden with two staff members who have received the prestigious award. Diane Ragone, director of the NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute, received the GCA Medal of Honor in 2016 in recognition of her work addressing global hunger.
“It is really quite extraordinary to have two leaders from the same organization receive this prestigious award just two years apart,” said Wichman in a news release. “That really says something about the impact the NTBG is having on the world. Several of my heroes and mentors in horticulture and botany have received this award — women and men who made significant contributions to advancing our understanding and appreciation of the natural world through horticulture.”
Jann Boxold, president of the Garden Club of Honolulu, which nominated Wichman for the award, described him as a “global leader in conservation and horticulture who has dedicated his life to the discovery and conservation of tropical plants and the protection of their habitats.”
Wichman, a Roosevelt High School graduate, was enthusiastic about nature at an early age, and at the urging of his conservation-minded grandmother, Juliet Rice Wichman, applied to a horticultural internship at NTBG, then known as the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden.
After completing the internship in 1976, Wichman joined NTBG, first as an apprentice stone mason, then as a head groundsman in Lawai Valley.
Wichman and botanist Steve Perlman conducted extensive botanical surveys of Limahuli Valley, and contributed to the discovery or rediscovery of more than a dozen previously unknown species, including the striking orange Hibiscus kokio subspecies saintjohnianus.
After earning a degree in horticulture from the University of Hawaii, he became a horticulturist, superintendent and eventually, director and CEO of Limahuli Garden.
During his tenure, he has spearheaded the design, fundraising, and construction of the Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center — the first LEED-certified building built on the island of Kauai. He also steered a successful bid to host the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.