UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens Retired Director Larry Mellichamp Joins Rare Group With Flora Caroliniana Award

Longtime UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens Director Larry Mellichamp ’70, who retired in 2014 after almost four decades directing the gardens, is the seventh person ever to receive the prestigious Flora Caroliniana Award from the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

The award recognizes enthusiasm and service to the preservation, restoration, and appreciation of the natural world. Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Mellichamp received the award in late April at a ceremony in the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens’ Mellichamp Native Terrace.

Larry Mellichamp (third from right with hat) gathers with family, friends and colleagues as he receives distinct honor.
The Mellichamp Native Terrace welcomed those gathered to honor its namesake, Larry Mellichamp.

People perched on rock walls, folding chairs and grassy knolls, settling into the sun-dappled space named for Mellichamp and designed to help people learn to use his beloved native plants in home landscapes. Birds swooped overhead, adding their notes to the words offered by colleagues, friends and contemporaries in the botanical field.

“I had the honor and adventure of working with Larry for 18 years here at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, and co-authoring two books together,” said Paula Gross, retired associate director, in a moving tribute. “I’m so pleased to be standing here in a garden co-created with Larry, Ed Davis, Johnny Massengale, and the entire staff, donors, and volunteer community of the Botanical Gardens. A place nourishing to body, mind, and spirit, bearing a very special name – Mellichamp.”

An expert on native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and carnivorous plants, particularly Sarracenia pitcher plants, Mellichamp is professor emeritus in the Department of Biology. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at UNC Charlotte in 1970 and a doctoral degree in botany from the University of Michigan before joining the University as faculty in 1976.

Larry Mellichamp at the ceremony, doing what he does – educating and sharing his love of plants.

He has written technical and layperson articles on plants and gardening, given hundreds of talks, taught thousands of students and community members, and written or co-authored six books that serve novice and advanced gardeners, including perhaps the best known, “Native Plants of the Southeast.”

The award was presented to Mellichamp by Johnny Randall, NCBG director of conservation programs, and Alan Weakley, director of the UNC Herbarium. Previous Flora Caroliniana Award recipients are:

  • Lady Bird Johnson for advocating for native plants and helping the North Carolina Botanical Garden launch its first fundraising campaign, “Celebrating Wildflowers.” (1988)
  • John Terres, naturalist and author best known for his work, From Laurel Hill to Siler’s Bog: The Walking Adventures of a Naturalist. (1991)
  • William Lanier Hunt to honor him as the Founder of the Botanical Garden Foundation. (1996)
  • Ritchie Bell the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s first director from 1961 to 1986. (2000)
  • Thomas Wright Earnhardt in recognition of his lifelong contributions to conservation. (2016)
  • Charlotte Jones Roe in honor of 44 years of service, tirelessly advocating for the North Carolina Botanical Garden. (2018)

Words and images: Lynn Roberson | Top Image: Larry Mellichamp (left) with Johnny Randall, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Alan Weakley, UNC Herbarium