2017 Robert Allerton Award Presented to Dr. David H. Lorence


2017 Robert Allerton Award Presented to Dr. David H. Lorence for Extraordinary Contributions to Botany and Horticulture

Kalāheo, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i USA (April 5, 2018) ― The National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) announced today that it will bestow The Robert Allerton Award for Excellence in Tropical Botany or Horticulture, one of its highest scientific honors, to botanist Dr. David H. Lorence who serves as NTBG’s Director of Science and Conservation and as the institute’s B. Evans Chair of Botany.

The Robert Allerton Award is presented every other year in recognition of individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to botany or horticulture. Lorence was named as the 2017 Allerton Award recipient after being nominated by Dr. Warren L. Wagner, Research Botanist and Curator, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Botany. He will be presented the award at a ceremony following NTBG’s Board of Trustees meeting on April 7.

Wagner noted that typically the Allerton Award is presented to an individual who excels in botany or horticulture but in Lorence’s case, his knowledge is “broad and outstanding in both.”

Over Lorence’s career he has specialized in the systematic study of tropical plants, floristics, and invasive plant species. His systematic research has focused on plants in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and includes neotropical members of the large and diverse Rubiaceae family (coffee, quinine, gardenias). He also studies Pacific island pteridophytes and the Monimiaceae family of the Malagasy region.

Lorence is also well known and highly regarded for his decades of work collecting, researching, and publishing on subjects related to Rubiaceae, Monimiaceae, Zingiberales (gingers, heliconia, etc.), Arecaceae (palms), ferns and other groups.

David H. Lorence was born and raised in rural Wisconsin where he first became intrigued with collecting and documenting insects and plants. After earning a B.A. in Botany at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1970), Lorence served as a Peace Corps volunteer for the Ministry of Agriculture in Mauritius and later for the Mauritius Herbarium at the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute. During that time he developed a deep interest in the floras of Indian Ocean island groups.

After earning his Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (1980), Lorence went on to serve as Assistant and Associate Curator at Herbario Nacional of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) from 1980 – 1987.

In 1987 Lorence accepted a position as Systematic Botanist and Curator of the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden (PTBG) Herbarium at NTBG on the island of Kaua‘i. For more than three decades, Lorence has continuously contributed to and directed the scientific research conducted at NTBG. His work includes curating the PTBG Herbarium, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Allertonia (a series of occasional papers), and overseeing scientific research and conservation at NTBG.

In the 31 years he has been employed at NTBG, Lorence has explored, collected, and documented plants in a wide range of tropical ecosystems in Hawai‘i, throughout the Pacific, and elsewhere. He has contributed substantially to the growth of NTBG’s living collections and sent research materials to numerous scientists and collaborators worldwide. He is also co-author of the Flora of the Hawaiian Islands and Marquesas Islands websites and lead author of the forthcoming Flora of the Marquesas Islands.

Dr. David Lorence is internationally recognized and respected in botanical, taxonomic, and other scientific communities. During his career, he has collected over 10,700 herbarium specimens, many with corresponding seeds or cuttings for propagation. He individually or collaboratively described and published two new flowering plant genera (Kanaloa and Glossostipula) and 155 new species, subspecies, and varieties representing 24 botanical families. This includes some 95 species in the Rubiaceae (coffee family) and 27 species in the Monimiaceae. He is also recognized in the names of seven plant species, including Psychotria lorenciana (Rubiaceae), Cylindrocline lorencei (Asteraceae), and the genus Lorencea (Rubiaceae).

Additionally, Lorence has studied and published on the floras of Madagascar, the Mascarenes, the Marquesas, Micronesia, Mexico, and Mesoamerica.

In the summer of 2016, Dr. Lorence led a six-week botanical expedition in Samoa where he and colleagues conducted field surveys of poorly known or previously unexplored areas of ‘Upolu and Savai‘i islands. That expedition yielded over 2,600 herbarium specimens including 264 bryophytes while also adding 16 “lost” Samoan species to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Since 1999, Lorence has been a board member of the Heliconia Society International (HSI), serving as conservation collections chair, student grants committee chair, and treasurer. During that time he has introduced scores of heliconias, gingers, and other Zingiberales taxa into NTBG’s living collections which are exchanged with other conservation centers like the University of Hawai‘i’s Lyon Arboretum and Waimea Valley Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

Despite decades of extensive field collecting and rough terrain botanizing in some of the world’s most rugged and remote places, Lorence insists he is not a “swashbuckling collector.”

Pointing to Lorence’s more than 175 publications that include the Rubiaceae of Mesoamerica, revisions and monographs, hundreds of living collections, wide-reaching conservation work, research, and numerous major contributions to advancing a greater knowledge of botany worldwide, especially in the Hawai‘i, Mexico, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Dr. Wagner said, “In short, I find Dave Lorence is an ideal candidate to receive this award.”

In response to being named the 2017 Allerton Award recipient, Lorence said, “It is indeed an honor to receive Robert Allerton Award for Excellence in Tropical Botany, and I accept it with great pleasure and appreciation. I never suspected that I would one day be selected as a recipient. My sincere thanks go to Warren and the Committee for nominating me, to the past awardees on whose shoulders I stand, and to Robert Allerton whose memory is kept alive with this distinguished award.”

As news of the award spread, reaction poured in from around the botanical world:

Dr. Michael Balick, Vice President for Botanical Science at The New York Botanical Garden, called Lorence “one of the premier botanists in the study of Pacific Island flora.” Having conducted field work in Micronesia over many years with Lorence, Balick added, “I have come to know Dave Lorence as a gifted scholar, devoted field botanist, and wonderful human being. He has extraordinary knowledge of the local flora in so many different island regions and is always willing to train and teach others in order to ensure that this work, so important to conservation and sustainable livelihoods, will continue far into the future.”

Lorence’s colleague Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute, called him “an extraordinary botanist and taxonomist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of tropical plants.”

“Dr. Lorence brings a joy and profound appreciation and understanding of the natural world to his work in the field, herbarium, and living collections at NTBG. Every hour I spent with Dave on field expeditions throughout Micronesia and American Samoa enriched my knowledge and proficiency as a plant scientist,” Ragone said.

Dr. John Dransfield, Honorary Research Fellow, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, noted how Lorence has examined and documented palm diversity. Decades of fieldwork in Mexico, the Pacific and Indian Ocean have deepened Lorence’s broad knowledge of vascular plants, Dransfield said, adding that his ability to identify plants and effectively teach were of special note. “Dr. Lorence’s contribution to tropical botany is invaluable and his receiving the 2017 Allerton Award is richly deserved,” Dransfield said.

Dr. Charlotte Taylor, Curator at Missouri Botanical Garden, called Lorence a “key figure, as both a scientist and mentor, in our modern study of tropical plants and biodiversity, and especially to our knowledge of the megadiverse Rubiaceae family.” Not only is Lorence “one of the most valued and appreciated colleagues for many people around the world,” Taylor said, “he has raised up several generations of younger botanists who are much, much better scientists for their collaboration with him.”

Dr. Stephen Weller, a professor at the University of California’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department said, “Dave Lorence is an extraordinary plant systematist with a true love for his work, and an interest in applying his knowledge broadly, including problems in plant conservation and restoration.”

Carla Black, President of the Heliconia Society International (HSI) explained how Lorence has dedicated his own time volunteering in multiple roles for the society over decades, promoting understanding and enjoyment of Zingiberales worldwide, encouraging new comers at every level. “HSI and Zingiberales appreciation around the globe have benefitted from Dr. Lorence’s professional and personable guidance and participation,” Black said.

NTBG’s President, Director, and CEO, Chipper Wichman underscored the importance to NTBG to have on staff “one of the foremost experts in systematics and taxonomy of Pacific Island floras, a world expert on the Rubiaceae, and a leader in the conservation of Zingiberales.”

Wichman continued, “Dave Lorence’s leadership in the soon-to-be-completed Flora of the Marquesas is a crowning feather in his intellectual cap, and it is especially appropriate that after decades of leading the committee to nominate and select outstanding individuals for the Allerton Award, that it is now being given to Dr. Lorence himself!”

In receiving the Allerton Award, Lorence expressed gratitude to all who had sparked his scientific interests and encouraged him to pursue a career in plant sciences. These include: Prof. R. E. Holttum (first recipient of the Allerton Award in 1975); Dr. Albert C. Smith; Drs. F. R. Fosberg and Sherwin Carlquist; Dr. Peter H. Raven; Dr. Alwyn Gentry; Prof. Sir Ghillean Prance; Dr. Warren Wagner; Lorence’s wife Ginette, his daughters Maria and Angela; and his parents who first encouraged his interest in science.

The Robert Allerton Award for Excellence in Tropical Botany or Horticulture is named after one of NTBG’s founding trustees and its principal initial benefactor, and consists of a bronze medal and honorarium. The award was first presented in 1975 to Dr. Richard E. Holttum of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Other past recipients include Dr. Harold St. John, Bishop Museum (1981), Dr. F. R. Fosberg, Smithsonian Institution (1983), Dr. Peter H. Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden (1988), Dr. Warren L. Wagner, Smithsonian Institution (1994), Dr. Natalie Whitford Uhl, Cornell University (2003), and Prof. Sir Ghillean Prance, Eden Project (2005). Dr. David Lorence is the 21st recipient of the Allerton Award.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden is a not-for-profit, non-governmental institution with nearly 2,000 acres of gardens and preserves in Hawai‘i and Florida. Its mission is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. NTBG is supported primarily through donations and grants.

Media contact: Jon Letman, Telephone: +1(808) 332-7324 Ext. 219, Email: jletman@ntbg.org

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