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Elsie Low

Teacher and botanist (1875-1909)

The fifth paper published in the 19th century by a woman in the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s Transactions was on Haastia pulvinaris, a species of the low lying alpine plant commonly known as vegetable sheep. Elsie Low was a scholarship-winning student at Canterbury College and before she began studying vegetable sheep, the only other work published on the plant was Sir Joseph Hooker’s Handbook of New Zealand Flora. Low prepared her manuscript in 1897, but it was lost the next year on the way to be examined in Europe, so she had to rewrite her paper to be read in 1899. But in the meantime, another publication on the leaf structure of the plant had been published in Europe in 1896. This overlap, always a danger for scientific workers in the colonies, may have contributed to Low receiving only a second-class honours in botany. She went on to become a teacher before marrying.1

Image: Vegetable Sheep. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


1. Mary R. S. Creese and Thomas M. Creese, Ladies in the Laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian Women in Science: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Scarecrow Press, 2010), p. 111.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.