Botanical Insights


Did you know that some plants entrap their nutrients by the use of suction? Were you aware that plants provide the basis for amelioration of conditions ranging from tropical disease, acute and chronic severe pain, to irregular heartbeat? Had you heard that many plants use biochemistry to choke other plants?

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

There is some content overlap with the 2018 course Beyond the Garden: A botanical science perspective.  For further details see the Course Outline section below.

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 two hours so a moderate level of fitness is required.
  • 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.

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.
  • a reaffirmation of some of the many ways we have used the ever-growing knowledge of plants to enhance our lives.

Course outline:
Sessions 1-3 will include lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion on Thursday evenings. Session 4 is a walking tour of the Wellington Botanic Garden on Saturday 19 October.

Please note: In comparison with a similar lecture series held in 2018, eighty percent [80%] of the presentation in Session One will comprise totally new content. Session Two will reinforce and build on much of the content seen in 2018 and have twenty five percent [25%] totally new content. All of the content [100%] in Session Three will be totally new.

SESSION ONE: ‘From under water to tree tops’
You will be presented with botanical perspectives covering ‘basics’ to interpretations for evolutionary development of the seed habit and the flower, pollination mechanisms and sexual reproduction, plant internal processes including ‘water pull’, and the special nutrient-accessing strategies of some plants. The session will open with a brief glimpse of the fungus and lichen worlds.

SESSION TWO: ‘Harnessing nature’s medicinal powers’
You will look at medicinal applications of plant compounds aimed at the amelioration of a range of conditions including high cholesterol, blood clots, ‘low-level’ pain as well as chronic and acute severe pain, oxidative stress, high blood pressure, malaria, organophosphate/nerve gas poisoning and some cancers. You will also gain insight into the role of fungi in fighting bacterial infection.

SESSION THREE: ‘Plants harming plants'
You will gain an appreciation of individual plant species’ biochemical strategies for dealing with ‘enemy’ plants, and also environmentally friendly ways in which humans might capitalise on the ‘cleverness’ of these strategies.

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 in Upland Road, Kelburn and will follow an easy downhill, well-paved, route.

Reg Harris completed a BSc in botany major at University of Otago and Bachelor in Forestry Science from Australian National University, which 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.