Cultivator of Native Plants

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Larry taught many, many students how to collect, store, and sow native seeds, in the room and on the trail. He inspired people to do more, plant more, and share the responsibility.


Larry Mellichamp, Gifted Teacher and Native Plant Hero, by Angela Haigler
An Inspirational Teacher and Lifelong Leader, by Craig Maxwell
Larry!, by Lisa Tompkins
He Inspired Me to Plant More Natives, by Barbara Smith

Larry Mellichamp, Gifted Teacher and Native Plant Hero

By Angela Haigler

Magnolia fraseri, Spring Trip 2009. Photo by Lisa Gould

When I think of Dr. Larry Mellichamp, I think of a kind, smart man with a wicked sense of humor who was an inspirational teacher and leader. I met him around the time I became insatiably interested in native plants. This was soon after I purchased my first home in 1998. Around that time, University of North Carolina Charlotte and Mecklenburg County partnered to host workshops about creating carefree gardens using native plants. The lazy gardener that I was, that thought excited me. “You mean there’s a way to garden where you leave the plants in the ground, and you don’t have to dig them up and replant them the next year, and this method is also good for the environment? Sign me up!” I said.

I wasn’t able to make that workshop, but I met Mary Stauble, who gave me a personal tour of her garden, and then I met Jean Woods who looped me in to help out as chair of the Southern Piedmont NCNPS chapter and next thing you know Larry Mellichamp was riding along with us to the board meetings and we began having the S. Piedmont chapter meetings at UNC Charlotte in the Botanical Garden classroom, often with Larry or Assistant Director Paula Gross on site. The rest, as they say, is history, as Larry became a permanent fixture in the North Carolina Native Plant Society, helping to sell plants at the annual picnic and partnering with the Society to have an academically recognized Native Plant certificate program.

Larry encouraged creativity in others. He was always down for the next adventure. For one of our NCNPS Charlotte chapter meetings, I asked Larry to help me create a program called “Weed or Worthwhile?” In the description, I asked folks to look for plants they couldn’t identify that popped into their yards, and Larry would help us to understand a bit about said plant. He started off explaining that some plants we call weeds were plants that were good for the earth in various ways, such as Sweetgum trees. He also shared how other plants made their way into our landscape, like Queen Anne’s Lace, and were taking over. It wasn’t just a program about weeds, it became a botanical history lesson in a way that only Larry could pull off. He was such a treasure in our midst. The program was a success thanks to his willingness to teach and spread the learning.

Larry taught from the heart; it came naturally to him. His very being expanded and his eyes sparkled with delight when he shared his knowledge with others – we felt the excitement. His love of teaching, combined with all the lessons that needed to be shared about native plants, made for a perfect partnership that birthed the Certificate in Native Plant Studies, Larry’s recent books about native plants, and the emerald in the center of the crown, Mellichamp Native Terrace, a UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden installation that shows us how to landscape using native plants.

When you give a great teacher like Dr. Larry Mellichamp a steady throng of interested, hungry students, he will feed them as much as they are willing to eat. Larry kept us fed and asked us if we wanted seconds. I feel grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to know him. It’s beautiful to know that his many contributions will carry on, though we will miss him dearly.


Angela M. Haigler, Charlotte, NC (NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter). NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter chair 2005–2008.


An Inspirational Teacher and Lifelong Leader

By Craig Maxwell

Larry inspiring us to do more and share the responsibility. Photo by Julie Higgie

My first time attending a Native Plant Society meeting was the 2020 annual seed share event where Larry taught attendees how to collect, store, and sow native seeds.

His excitement and humor were infectious and he made you want to ask questions and learn more because he made it approachable. No matter what subject I heard Dr. M speak on over the last couple years, he always seemed just as fascinated by it as if he’d just learned about it himself. Larry didn’t just help me learn about plants, he helped me learn how to be excited about nature again and he inspired me to do more and share the responsibility of carrying that message.

I believe his gift to us is now our responsibility and I’m forever grateful for having known him, even if it was for a short time.


Craig Maxwell, Charlotte, NC (NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter). NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter co-chair.


Larry!

By Lisa Tompkins

Larry made learning about native plants interesting, accessible, and fun. Photo by Lisa Tompkins

I knew of Larry long before I ever met him. First, as a faculty spouse and UNCC alumna and then as a horticulture technology student at Central Piedmont Community College. I “heard tell” of this professor who was director of UNCC Botanical Gardens and had something to do with early land conservation efforts in Mecklenburg County (the beginnings of the Catawba Lands Conservancy). His field botany course was legendary. It was discontinued before I had the chance to take it – a regret I carry with me. It was only after I became a member of the North Carolina Native Plant Society and, in time, the chair of the Southern Piedmont Chapter that I came to know him better.

Knowing him through the NC Native Plant Society meant following him on many a hike and trying to catch up when one of his teaching moments occurred. Or, scrambling behind him off trail while he was on the hunt for some rare/interesting/unusual plant that might occur there. It was riding with him (eek!) and sitting through long, faraway meetings. It was listening to him pitch “must have” native plants and trying not to spend too much or buy too many (this never worked). It was coming to the defense of some poor plant that he’d declared garden unworthy (Larry!).

After his retirement from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, our local Southern Piedmont Chapter of NCNPS benefited greatly from the time he so freely shared. He could always be counted on to provide a program or lead a hike. More often than not, he brought lots of native plants that he’d propagated to give away to lucky meeting participants.

Larry teaching us to cultivate. Photo by Lisa Tompkins

He taught us to cultivate and identify, explained plant fertilization and shared interesting factoids. Told bad plant jokes. And, some good ones. He set spores on fire! In other words, Larry made learning about native plants interesting, accessible, and fun. It was plain to see that he loved it all. A love that was contagious.

The worlds of native plants and gardening don’t come together very often but they did in Larry. The friendships that occur in that place are special for those of us who live there. And, they leave a special kind of legacy. Right now, I have a tray of plants that he gave me last spring, yet to be planted. Others have made it into the ground and are thriving. Or, not. Or, too soon to tell. One of the latest additions to my garden is Mellichamp’s Skullcap, named after Larry’s South Carolina, French Huguenot, botanist ancestor. I’m hoping it’s a thriver. I even have the last plant that he talked me into buying, which appeared to have died before I even arrived home. Will it come back next spring? We’ll see. Larry! I miss him already.


Lisa Tompkins, Waxhaw, NC(NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter). Former co-chair, NCNPS Southern Piedmont Chapter.


He Inspired Me to Plant More Natives

by Barbara Smith

Larry was a main inspiration to us to begin planting more natives. He educated us on their importance. Photo by Lisa Tompkins

One of my first introductions to the North Carolina Native Plant Society was a hike led by Larry Mellichamp. He was one of my main inspirations to begin planting more natives and educating those around me about their importance. I know he inspired countless others. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to all his family and friends!


Barbara Smith, New Bern (NCNPS Central Coastal Plain and Southeast Coastal chapters).


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