Concluding a nearly half-century career with the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), Charles R. “Chipper” Wichman, the organization’s president and former chief executive officer, is retiring at the end of 2022. Wichman began his association with the Garden in 1976 as an intern at the suggestion of his grandmother Juliet Rice Wichman.
Over the course of five decades, Wichman has served NTBG as a groundsman, foreman, horticulturalist, garden director, director, CEO, and president. NTBG was established in 1964 with a congressional charter as the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden. In 1988, after the acquisition of botanist David Fairchild’s Miami property The Kampong, the organization was renamed by an act of Congress as the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Comprised of five gardens and five preserves in Hawaii and Florida — Allerton Garden, McBryde Garden and Lawai Preserve, and Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai; Kahanu Garden and Preserve on Maui; the Awini and Kaupulehu preserves on Hawaii Island; and The Kampong in Miami — NTBG spans 2,000 acres and curates living collections that include more than 100,000 accessions.
NTBG also includes the Breadfruit Institute which conserves the world’s most extensive collection of breadfruit varieties on Maui and Kauai, operates the LEED Gold Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center at NTBG headquarters, and the International Center for Tropical Botany at The Kampong.
Under Wichman, NTBG has become a recognized global leader in discovery, scientific research, conservation and education focused on rare and endangered plant species. NTBG perpetuates the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions, advancing the field of biocultural conservation.
“Not many people are given the chance to have a career that truly makes a difference in the world. I am grateful for this opportunity and immensely proud of my role in NTBG’s evolution and growth.”Chipper Wichman
During his tenure, Wichman, in partnership with his wife Hauoli Wichman, established the 1,000-acre Limahuli Valley Special Subzone on Kauai’s north shore, enabling NTBG to undertake true “ridge to reef” conservation utilizing traditional Hawaiian knowledge and values. This unique property was left to the Wichman’s by Chipper’s grandmother which they in turn gifted to NTBG in 1994.
In 1997, the Wichmans took on the management of Kahanu Garden in Hana, Maui where they helped coordinate and oversee the restoration of the Piilanihale Heiau, one of the largest archaeological and cultural structures in the Pacific. He was also part of a collaborative process to develop the Hawaii Strategy for Plant Conservation modeled after the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
In 2015, Wichman helped establish the Lawai Kai Special Subzone on Kauai’s south shore. Additionally, in 2016, Wichman served as vice-chair on the national host committee that successfully bid for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress. The event welcomed more than 10,000 delegates from 192 countries to Hawaii for the first IUCN congress ever held in the United States.
“Not many people are given the chance to have a career that truly makes a difference in the world,” Wichman said. “I am grateful for this opportunity and immensely proud of my role in NTBG’s evolution and growth.”
Among his many honors, Wichman received The Garden Club of Honolulu’s Hui Mala Award (2015), the Award of Merit from the American Public Garden Association (2016), the Medal of Honor from The Garden Club of America (2018), the American Horticultural Society’s Professional Award (2020), and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Florida International University in 2020. He also served as director when the Limahuli Garden and Preserve was named “Best Natural Botanical Garden” by the American Horticultural Society (1997).
Wichman expressed his appreciation for NTBG’s Board of Trustees, staff, and supporters. He also thanked his wife Hauoli Wichman who worked alongside him as his partner and advisor, contributing her professional skills, deep cultural knowledge, and Hawaiian heritage as they jointly built a personal and professional legacy, advancing the cause of rare plant discovery and biocultural conservation throughout Hawaii, across the Pacific, and beyond.
Wichman continues to serve on the Hawaii Conservation Alliance Bio-security Subcommittee, the Rapid Ohia Death Task Force, Laukahi Hawaii Plant Conservation Network, Hui Makaainana o Makana, and other community bodies.
After dedicating nearly half a century to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the Wichmans said they look forward to enjoying more time with their family, working closely with the community, and spending time relaxing in the gardens and amongst the plants that they have dedicated their lives to protecting.
NTBG now operates under the leadership of Janet Mayfield who was appointed CEO and director in 2019.