By Deborah Blackwell, Arnold Arboretum Communications
Awarded by the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), the Fairchild Medal was presented to Dosmann at a black-tie dinner last month at The Kampong, the organization’s historical garden—and former residence of plant explorer David Fairchild—in Coconut Grove, Florida.
“What an honor to be recognized for the work I do as a plant explorer,” Dosmann said. “In a world where one out of five plant species is threatened with extinction, the importance of the field of botany cannot be understated.”
Dosmann, who curates and manages the Arnold Arboretum’s global collection of temperate woody trees, shrubs, and vines comprising some 16,000 accessioned plants, joined the Arboretum in 2007 as Curator of the Living Collections. In 2017 he was named Keeper of the Living Collections—only the second person to hold the title, following Ernest Henry Wilson, Arnold Arboretum plant explorer who received the distinction in 1927.
Established in 1872, the Arnold Arboretum is the oldest public arboretum in North America, and an important education, research, and conservation facility. Former director Peter Ashton was also a Fairchild Medal recipient.
“This is also a celebration of the Arnold Arboretum’s long history and legacy of sending plant explorers into the field to study Earth’s plant biodiversity,” Dosmann said.
William “Ned” Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University said he was honored to nominate Dosmann.
“Michael is an international leader in efforts to promote greater knowledge and preservation of wild-collected plants,” he said. “Because of this, visitors to both the Arnold Arboretum and public gardens around the globe, as well as scholars today and well into the future, will study the plants derived from these expeditions, helping to provide the last hope for species on the brink of extinction.”
Since 2007, Dosmann has led and participated in multiple botanical expeditions to China and Japan, as well as regions in the Eastern United States including the Adirondacks of upstate New York and the Ozarks of Arkansas. These expeditions to acquire wild-collected seed, focus on genera such as Acer (maple), Carya (hickory), Viburnum, and Fraxinus (ash), as well as species of conservation concern. The ongoing effort contributes significantly to the expansion of the Arboretum’s Living Collections and Herbarium.
Decisively committed to advancing plant exploration through the study and refinement of collection strategies and protocols, Dosmann, while a Putnam Fellow at the Arboretum in 2000, began researching ways to improve the success of plant-collecting expeditions. He has formalized a number of papers that can be used as a teaching tool and model for other gardens or arboreta and has developed an exploration toolkit with the goal of contributing to greater expedition success.
“Exploration is a wonderful, fantastic thing,” Dosmann said. “Many are excited to do it, but you may have just two weeks in the field, and you’ve got to get it right. You want the results — the plants — to live on for decades, if not longer.”
In addition to seeing his work as an opportunity to generate and synthesize new knowledge for the betterment of arboreta and gardens around the world, Dosmann also hopes to help bring the excitement of plant exploration to the public and inspire people to examine plants in their own surroundings.
“I think plant explorers have a moral obligation to bring back not just the plants, but also share the inspiration with others,” he said.
The day following the award ceremony, Dosmann held a public lecture at The Kampong, “Today’s Plant Explorer: Learning from the past to secure a better future” that included a charge, he said, to awaken our inner plant hunter and to inspire others to do the same, particularly youth.
“What was wonderful is that in the audience was a high school student—a budding botanist—who I hope someday will be up on the same stage, receiving the same medal for her future work,” Dosmann said.
NTBG President Chipper Wichman said Dosmann truly exemplifies the spirit of David Fairchild not only through his collection work and plant introductions, but through successful work popularizing plants through teaching and public education programs.
“It’s researchers like Michael Dosmann, who will engage the hearts and minds of the next generations of botanists,” he said.