Larry M. Schokman, a longtime horticulturist and plant hunter, has been named the 2015 recipient of the David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration.
Schokman is recognized for his exceptional contributions to plant life and more than three decades of tending to The Kampong, once the Coconut Grove estate and private garden of the award’s namesake, Dr. David Grandison Fairchild.
Sir Ghillean Prance, a prominent British botanist, nominated Schokman, describing him as “a true plants man.”
Not only is Schokman regarded nationally and internationally for his lectures and written works, “Larry knows and loves every plant at The Kampong and has done much to promote his love for plants to other people,” Prance said. “I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Fairchild Medal because he is the person who has faithfully cared for many of the original plants collected by David Fairchild.”
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Said Schokman: “I am totally humbled for several reasons, not only because my name was proposed by none other than Sir Ghillean Prance, but also because I will join an amazing group of scientists and scholars who preceded me. I am also the first Floridian to receive this award.”
Born in the highlands of central Sri Lanka, Schokman grew up on a tea plantation, where he followed in the footsteps of his father and became a tea planter. He left Sri Lanka in 1972 to travel the world. He eventually settled in the Miami area after Dr. Catherine “Kay” Sweeney asked him to help her care for the Fairchild legacy.
Sweeney, who purchased The Kampong in 1963, later gifted it to the nonprofit National Tropical Botanical Garden. Schokman served as horticulture director, and later Kampong director. During this time, he introduced additional plants collected on his travels. He received the title Kampong director emeritus after his retirement in 2007.
Schokman is passionate about plants and recognized for advancing tropical horticulture in South Florida. He served as president of the Tropical Flowering Tree Society; on the boards of the Rare Fruit Council International, TREE-mendous Miami, and Friends of Chapman Field; on advisory committees of the city of Miami Beautification and Environment, and the University of Miami Gifford Arboretum.
Schokman is author of Plants of The Kampong and has contributed to Harvard Papers in Botany and numerous other publications.
Schokman’s legacy extends across the country. He was nationally recognized in 2000 by the American Horticulture Society with its Professional Award for the Director of a Botanical Garden in the United States. He was awarded the Florida International University Medallion in 2006 and its Outstanding Alumni Award in recognition of Environmental Professional Leadership in 2007. The Garden Club Presidents of Miami-Dade County presented him with an Award of Excellence in 1993 and Outstanding Citizen Award in 1999.
“No one has embodied the spirit and passion of David Fairchild more than Larry Schokman,” said Chipper Wichman, president and CEO of National Tropical Botanical Garden. “For the past 30 years, Larry has perpetuated the legacy of Fairchild through the dedication and care of The Kampong.”
Each year the National Tropical Botanical Garden honors an individual who carries on in the spirit of Fairchild.
Fairchild was one of the greatest and most influential horticulturalists and plant collectors in the United States. He devoted his life to plant exploration, searching the world for useful plants suitable for introduction into the country. As an early explorer, he conducted field trips throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, and East and South Africa during the late 1800s and early 1900s. These explorations contributed to the introduction of important tropical plants that became economically important to the U.S. This group of plants includes sorghum, nectarines, unique species of bamboo, dates and varieties of mangoes.