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Ruth Mason

Botanist (1913-1990)

Ruth Mason is perhaps best known for her research into the ecology of water plants – over approximately two decades from 1949 she collected an astonishing 13,500 specimens, using her own drying and handling techniques. She found new species and clarified others, publishing widely.1

Mason had started as an assistant botanist at the Department of Science and Industrial Research’s Wellington division in 1939. She established a seed herbarium, which was useful for identifying the gut contents of pest species such as the possum. She also identified seeds from a moa gizzard. During World War II, Mason looked into the establishment of a flax industry near Timaru.2

Mason was a dedicated environmental scientist and conservationist. She was made a life member of the New Zealand Ecological Society in 1974 – as of 2016, the only woman to have ever been awarded that honour.3


1. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu Taonga, ‘Mason, Ruth’, Web page, accessed 20 September 2017, /en/biographies/5m38/mason-ruth.

2. ‘NZBotSoc No 20 June 1990 - Nzbotsoc-1990-20.Pdf’, accessed 20 September 2017, http://www.nzbotanicalsociety.org.nz/newsletter/nzbotsoc-1990-20.pdf.

3. ‘The Times They Are A-Changing? NZ Ecological Society Diversity over 64 Years - Women-in-Ecology-NZAS-Diversity.Pdf’, accessed 20 September 2017, http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/publications/researchpubs/women-in-ecology-NZAS-diversity.pdf.

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.