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Bella MacCullum

Botanist and mycologist (1885-1927)

New Zealand’s first female doctor of science, Bella Cross first earned her MA in botany in 1909 with research on plants that have adapted to salty soils near the sea. Her research involved field work as well as anatomical studies, and opened up this field for New Zealand study. She continued to work on wetland plants with a National Research Scholarship, and also taught at high schools before earning her doctorate from Canterbury College in 1919.1 Her thesis was on the economic importance of flax.

By this time Cross had married for a second time, after her first husband was killed in WWI. She moved to England with her new husband, pathologist Peter MacCullum. After a short course in bacteriology, she became one of the early workers in fungus identification, and studied fungi that cause dark stains on newly harvested timber. She was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1921.


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. 113.

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