The National Tropical Botanical Garden announced last week The Garden Club of America has named Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute, as the recipient of its 2016 Medal of Honor.
The medal, which is given for outstanding service to horticulture, will be presented in a ceremony at GCA’s annual meeting in Minneapolis May 22.
“Her work is in every sense the epitome of the best in horticulture: quest for knowledge, preservation, conservation, research, creative experimentation, sharing, mentoring and fulfilling a humanitarian mission,” said the GCA in honoring Ragone.
In her more than 30 years of working with breadfruit, Ragone has researched, collected, and curated the world’s largest and most diverse collection in existence. She has conducted field research in over 50 Pacific islands to not only seek and collect rare varieties but also document the cultural knowledge associated with them that would have otherwise been lost. Added to that, are countless hours in the laboratory and writing or co-authoring more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, technical reports and book entries, as well as popular articles, on breadfruit and other tropical plant-related subjects.
Ragone has spearheaded collaborative efforts to distribute select varieties of breadfruit to countries where it is most needed. In order to do so, new growing protocols needed to be developed that would allow breadfruit to be mass produced, something that had never been accomplished.
In collaboration with a research team in Canada and an international horticultural company, the Institute has revolutionized breadfruit propagation, making it possible to produce and distribute millions of healthy trees around the world.
Since the launch of the Institute’s Global Hunger Initiative, more than 73,000 trees of highly nutritious, elite breadfruit varieties have been distributed to 37 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.
“I am humbled and grateful to the GCA for selecting me,” Ragone said. “Several of my heroes and mentors in horticulture and botany have received this award, women and men who made significant contributions to advancing our understanding and appreciation of the natural world through horticulture.”
NTBG CEO Chipper Wichman described Ragone’s work with breadfruit as “groundbreaking,” and added “Diane is worthy of having her name placed on the Medal of Honor roll alongside such distinguished names as Henry Francis DuPont, Dr. and Mrs. David Fairchild, and Hawai‘i botanist Harold St. John.”
The Medal of Honor has been presented by the Garden Club of America since 1920. Ragone was nominated to GCA’s awards committee by the Hillsborough Garden Club (California) and seconded by the Garden Club of Palm Beach (Florida), with supporting letters from the Pacific Business Center Program at the University of Hawai‘i’s Shidler College, world-renowned conservationist Dr. Peter Raven, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (England) Sir Ghillean Prance, the Hunger Alliance of Ghana, and others.
National Tropical Botanical Garden is a nonprofit, nongovernmental institution with nearly 2,000 acres of gardens and preserves in Hawai‘i and Florida. The institution’s 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.