NYBG Gold Medal Recipients

For 125 years The New York Botanical Garden has been advancing the ambitious and visionary goals of our founders. Looking forward, we remain committed to expanding the scope and influence of our leadership role in Saving the Plants of the World; Creating a Green Urban Oasis; Connecting Gardening to the Arts and Humanities; Teaching Science to City Kids; and Anchoring the Community.

To recognize those individuals who have made remarkable contributions to botany, horticulture, or science education, or have shown extraordinary dedication to the Garden and its mission, NYBG periodically awards the Gold Medal. It is the highest honor that can be conferred by the Garden.


Shelby White

Shelby White is an ardent and steadfast supporter of botanical gardens and centers for environmental education that have benefited greatly from her wide-ranging philanthropy. Her dedication to green spaces for the good of the public is far reaching, and includes a 25-acre preserve in the Bahamas that is now a national park. In addition to being an influential writer and lecturer, she serves on the boards of many cultural institutions. Ms. White joined the NYBG Board of Trustees in 1989, and now serves as Vice Chairman, and is also a long-serving member of the Executive Committee. Her generosity and leadership, and that of her late husband Leon Levy, have been instrumental in dramatically enhancing the overall visitor experience at NYBG, including the creation of the Rodney White Country Garden, the Ladies’ Border, and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Reading Room in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. Most recently, the new 3.5-acre Native Plant Garden, a gift of the Leon Levy Foundation, is a masterpiece of modern landscape design and horticulture, and the Leon Levy Visitor Center welcomes more than a million visitors each year. Both stand as two of the most significant improvements that have been made to the Garden’s National Historic Landmark landscape.


Thomas E. Lovejoy, Ph.D.

Thomas E. Lovejoy, Ph.D., renowned biodiversity and climate change expert, created the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems Project in 1979, a program that brought the importance of biodiversity to the forefront of conservation studies and informed the public of its significance. In 1980 he coined the term “biological diversity,” and since then he has been a key figure in global ecology initiatives and conservation efforts, informing the work of scientists worldwide. Dr. Lovejoy, who is University Professor at George Mason University and Senior Fellow of the United Nations Foundation, works at the interface of science and environmental policy. A longtime member of the Garden’s Board of Trustees, he helped to focus the world’s attention on the issue of tropical deforestation starting in the 1970s and served on advisory councils under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. He has helped inform the NYBG Board, and many members of the U.S. Congress, of Amazon conservation issues at the Biological Fragments of Forest Fragments Project in Brazil, an important site of Garden scientific research in the 1980s and 1990s, and he has tirelessly informed the public of the perils of climate change through numerous technical and popular publications as well as symposia and presentations.


Patricia K. Holmgren, Ph.D.
Noel H. Holmgren, Ph.D.

Patricia K. Holmgren, Ph.D., and Noel H. Holmgren, Ph.D., have been associated with the Garden since the early 1960s, each with distinguished careers until their retirements, Patricia Holmgren in 2000 as Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and Associate Vice President for Collections and Publications, and Noel in 2004 as Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany. Completing a monumental project that traces its origins back to the 1930s, NYBG Press is publishing the final volume of the Holmgrens’ magnum opus, Intermountain Flora, which documents in extensive detail the plant life found between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains in the American West. Their scientific accomplishments have garnered important recognition by their colleagues, including the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, which awarded them the 2012 Asa Gray Award for outstanding lifetime achievement, named for the most important American botanist of the 19th century. In addition to the Holmgrens’ work on Intermountain Flora, the Society cited them for their long stewardship of the Index Herbariorum, a comprehensive listing of the world’s approximately 3,400 herbaria (plant research collections) and the roughly 10,000 curators who run them. The Holmgrens co-edited the Index for many years, seeing it through several print editions and then creating an online database.


Lewis B. Cullman

Lewis B. Cullman has helped transform the Garden into a preeminent international center for plant research and conservation as well as science education. Now Senior Vice Chairman, Lewis joined the Board of Trustees in 1993, and in 1994 he and his late wife, Dorothy, provided a generous gift to establish the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, dedicated to addressing critical questions about the identification and genealogy of plants through DNA analysis. Through this Program and the subsequently established Plant Genomics Program, Cullman Curators, whose expertise is spread across the plant kingdom—from the earliest branches of the green algae and land plants to the major branches of the flowering plants—work at the forefront of the global scientific effort to assemble the evolutionary Tree of Life for all plants and fungi. The Cullman Program focuses the Garden’s molecular research effort on DNA barcoding—a technique that uses small, standardized fragments of DNA as a species identity-tag. Mr. Cullman’s continuing leadership and generosity have enabled the state-of-the-art Cullman Molecular Systematics Laboratory and the Cullman Conference Room, two facilities that greatly improved the Garden’s science and education infrastructure, and as well as ongoing support of summer science internships for students.


Oliver Sacks, M.D.

The late Oliver Sacks, M.D., the distinguished neurologist and humanitarian, was a serious amateur botanist and active member of NYBG’s Board of Trustees. Best known for his collections of neurological case studies, including Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, he joined the Garden’s Botanical Science Committee in 2002, and he was elected to the Board the following year. His books reflect on universal themes of courage and survival, and illuminate the fact that medicine is both a science and an art. Dr. Sacks often brought many of the patients profiled in Awakenings to the Garden to share his love of plants and experience the serenity and awareness he found in nature. During other visits, he enjoyed bringing together people from the various fields that appealed to his eclectic nature so they could learn from each other: Botanists learned about cephalopods from marine biologists; geologists learned about plant science from botanists. Long fascinated by ferns and other primitive plants and their ability to survive and adapt, he authored several books that are partly botanical in nature, including Oaxaca Journal, which chronicles a fern-hunting trip to Mexico with members of the American Fern Society.


LuEsther T. Mertz,

LuEsther T. Mertz believed in the value of cultural institutions and their role in improving the quality of life for people everywhere. Through her personal philanthropy, and that of the committed trustees of the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, she has supported the Garden’s mission for more than 30 years. Although her love of gardens spurred her to become involved with NYBG, her interest quickly expanded beyond horticulture and education. Her concern with the welfare of the environment at the local, national, and international levels engaged her staunch support of the Garden’s scientific programs. The most visible element of Mrs. Mertz’s legacy at NYBG is the renowned LuEsther T. Mertz Library, the most important botanical and horticultural research library in the world. Scientists, landscape designers, artists, students, gardeners, and horticulturists from across the globe turn to the Mertz Library and its vast holdings, which represent almost one thousand years of accumulated knowledge, for inspiration and information. While many of the Garden’s science, horticulture, and education programs do not bear the Mrs. Mertz’s name, all have benefited from her generosity. After her death in 1991, important gifts from her Estate and from the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust have supported core programs at the Garden in horticulture, science, and visitor services that have contributed to the institution’s ongoing renaissance.

Top: LuEsther T. Mertz

Bottom: Accepted by the Trustees of the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust • Larry Condon, Georgia Delano, William B. O'Connor, and John Hoffee, with Gregory Long and Maureen Chilton


Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH

Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH, has carried out remarkable service to—and continues to demonstrate extraordinary dedication to—NYBG’s mission as well as to botany and horticulture internationally. He served as a scientist and scientific administrator at the Garden, arriving as a postdoctoral research associate in 1963 and departing as Senior Vice President for Science and Founding Director of the Institute of Economic Botany in 1988, when he returned to his native Great Britain. He became Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1988–1999), and was knighted in 1995. During his 25 years at NYBG, Professor Prance conducted prodigious plant exploration and research, mentored graduate students, developed new programs and partnerships, and championed the importance of plant conservation and sustainable development. In 1964 he developed a an exploration program in the Amazon, working with local botanical institutions, most notably the National Amazonian Research Institute in Manaus. In the course of his fieldwork for the Garden in Amazonia, Prof. Prance and his collaborators discovered more than 400 plant species new to science. Currently Scientific Director of the Eden Project in Cornwall, he has continued his engagement with NYBG since 1998 as a Distinguished Counsellor to the Board of Trustees. Prof. Prance’s recent memoir, That Glorious Forest, was published by NYBG Press in 2014.

Professor Sir Ghillean Prance (left) with Edward P. Bass


Enid A. Haupt,

Enid A. Haupt was the greatest patron American horticulture has ever known and a historic figure in the life of NYBG, where she was active for more than 30 years. As early as 1973, the Garden honored Mrs. Haupt with its Distinguished Service Award for her contributions that reflected “her belief in the power of Nature to refresh and restore.” Mrs. Haupt joined the Board of Trustees in 1975, when the Conservatory—NYBG’s iconic and perhaps most treasured feature as the preeminent Victorian-style glasshouse in America—was in serious need of repair and renovation. Mrs. Haupt’s initial gift funded the restoration of the Conservatory’s Palms of the Americas Gallery. Within the next two years, she underwrote the restoration of the entire building. In 1978 the Conservatory was renamed to honor her generous support. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mrs. Haupt’s subsequent gifts helped advance the Garden’s collections and programs as well as the ongoing rehabilitation of the Conservatory. The grand reopening of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in May 1997 marked the beginning of a new era of outstanding public horticulture at the Garden and symbolized its unprecedented investment in the related fields of science and education. More than two generations of NYBG visitors have been grateful for her unwavering and unprecedented contributions to American horticulture.


Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D.

Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D., is among the most acclaimed biological and environmental scholars of our era. Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, and Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus at Harvard University, Professor Wilson has influenced the dialogue on the relationship between people and the rest of the biosphere more than perhaps anyone else; the most recent of his 32 books, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, is emblematic of the tremendous breadth and depth of his impact on humanity’s environmental psyche. Prof. Wilson served on the Board of Trustees of the Garden from 1992 to 1998, and since then as a Distinguished Counsellor to the Board. Through his writings, lectures, and steadfast commitment to the well-being of the Garden’s mission, he has underscored that since the beginning of civilization, people have strived to understand the diversity of living forms around them, noting, “Plants in particular, because of their vital importance and captivating beauty, are central to human life. The modern botanical garden, of which The New York Botanical Garden is a premier example, is the most advanced form of institution devoted to them.”

The Gold Medal, inspired by the seal of The New York Botanical Garden, is gold-plated silver and was created by Tiffany & Company. Tiffany’s relationship with the Garden dates back to 1895, when the company was one of the Garden’s first benefactors.