There is a lot more to growing a plant than putting a seed in the ground and chucking some dirt on it.
Just ask Dr James Douglas – he’s the expert.
For more than 40 years, Dr Douglas has dedicated his life to agronomy and was recently recognised for this work with an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University.
His interest in plants started here in Waitaki.
Though raised in Dunedin, as a boy Dr Douglas spent his holidays visiting his grandfather in Oamaru and his family’s property in Waianakarua, where he would wander the hills and forests.
“It is really where my love of plants came from,” Dr Douglas said.
Having an “inquiring mind” and a love for being in nature, he found studying plants was a natural evolution.
Dr Douglas completed a bachelor of agricultural science degree from the university in 1962, having been warned off medical science by his father.
A career with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries started in Alexandra, researching grass and legume introduction, soil fertility, and the development of grasslands.
He then completed a master of agricultural science degree, before becoming a district field research officer in Oamaru.
Two years later, he moved to Hamilton where he worked at the Ruakura Research Centre for 37 years before retiring to his family’s property in Waianakarua.
During a trip to Japan, Dr Douglas saw how other populations ate and saw a potential for growing those different foods in New Zealand.
A national crop research programme was established to grow food for an international market with assistance from the New Zealand Trade Development Board.
This resulted in the establishment of research programmes in medicinal plants, plant extracts, culinary herbs, essential oils and edible fungi.
His late twin brother Malcolm Douglas pursued the same degree and worked in Dr Douglas’ essential oil research group at the University of Otago.
“The challenge was dealing with useful plants,” Dr Douglas said.
Many plants deemed weeds had medicinal or useful qualities but were widely overlooked, he said.
“We had to have a definite goal for market opportunity.”
After retiring in 2006, Dr Douglas was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Now in his 80s, it was nice to know he was still thought of, he said after receiving his honorary doctorate .
“At my age it’s pretty surprising and humbling,” Dr Douglas said.
However, it took a couple of attempts to make it happen. The ceremony was scheduled to take place in April 2020, then October, but was cancelled because of Covid-19.
Finally, Dr Douglas was awarded it in May this year.
He was not in any hurry to use his new honorific on legal documents, he said.
Dr Douglas was enjoying retirement with his wife in Waianakarua on the property that had been in his family for 100 years.