Beyond the Garden: A botanical science perspective


Are you aware of the similarity in cell structure between humans and plants, and the metabolic processes going on within them? Or which plants have aided in medical treatment for blood clots, stomach ulcers and some cancers?

Each week this course looks at different aspects of plant biology, from basic botany and associated phenomena, to evidence-based medicinal applications and plant-human genetic commonalities. The final session is a Saturday ‘outdoor lab’ at the Wellington Botanic Garden.

Target audience:
This course will be of interest to any plant lover who is also interested in science, particularly botany, physics, biochemistry and medicine, and/or engineering and history.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • A strong appreciation of the connections between plants, their world and ours.
  • Knowledge and understanding of 'how things work', and an appreciation of the value of science-based evidence.

Course outline:
Sessions 1-3 will include lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion on Tuesday evenings. Session 4 is a walking tour of the Wellington Botanic Garden on Saturday 24 November.

SESSION ONE: 'Botanic intrigues: from g-forces to Agincourt': This session has a wide span, encompassing basic botany and associated fields such as physics, biochemistry and physiology and will climb from ground-level to tree-top in doing so. It will draw attention to biological phenomena, engineering-based applications and historical events where plants and their products played an important role.

SESSION TWO: Medical conditions and plants that can help’ ': You will look at selected medicinal applications of plant biochemicals to ameliorate high cholesterol, blood clots, pain, oxidative stress, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, urinary tract infections, skeletal damage, organophosphate/nerve gas poisoning, and some cancers.

SESSION THREE: 'Plants and Humans: we're closer than you think': You will review cell structure and functions, cellular respiration, oxygen management, heat generation, wound healing, 'childbirth', chirality, and primeval links.

There is a short break halfway through the lecture presentations, and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

SESSION FOUR: Field Trip: Wellington Botanic Garden will be the arena for an 'outdoor lab' to reinforce and supplement the lecture presentations. This 'walk-and-talk' will commence at the Lookout, next to the top Cable Car station [Upland Road] and will follow an easy downhill, well-paved, route.

You will be required to complete and return a Personal Disclosure Form to the Centre for Lifelong Learning in advance of the trip. Further details about the field trip will be provided during the course.

Field trip - what to bring:

  • The field trip will last approximately two hours and will take place in any weather. We recommend that you wear comfortable walking shoes and suitable clothing for the varied weather conditions you may encounter. 
  • You may also find it helpful to bring a small field lens of up to but not more than 10x magnification, or other simple lens.
  • The tour will follow an easy downhill route but you may be on your feet for up to 90 minutes so a moderate level of fitness is required.

Reg Harris’ studies at University of Otago (BSc with botany major, chemistry, zoology and physics) and Australian National University (BForSc) are augmented by his enduring interest in botany and associated sciences. He has played a central role in bringing Wellington Botanic Garden and Victoria University of Wellington together in the interests of higher education. He and a fellow Wellington Botanical Garden guide/botanist run ‘outdoor labs’ each year for 250-260 biology students studying diversity in plant form, function, survival and reproduction.

In the mid-1980s, and after studying business management for three years at Victoria University of Wellington, he began consulting work, specialising in industry development in the metals, food, chemicals, energy, transport, horticulture, science and other sectors. In 2006, partly on the back of this, he was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to review the evolution of ‘Centres of Excellence’ for advanced manufacturing in the UK.

He is involved with the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT) and is an Associate Investigator with the Medical Technologies Core of Research Excellence (MedTechCoRE). Since 2006, he has focussed on the advancement of Regenerative Medicine in New Zealand. The field brings together life sciences and engineering in the development of biological substitutes for the replacement and repair of human cells, tissue and organs damaged by trauma and age-related afflictions.

In 2012-2016 he was a member of a four-country (UK, NZ, Portugal and The Netherlands) EU-funded project, code-named skelGEN, which sought to strengthen understanding of human skeletal regeneration and to expedite the movement of new products and therapies to the clinic. He is now involved in work that follows on from this.

Relevant links:
Faculty of Science
Wellington Botanic Garden

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.