Cass - Ellen Heine - Field Facilities Centre - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Biographical notes of Ellen Minna Heine

First published in the New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter Number 85, September 2006 by E.J. Godley and presented here with the permission of Mr Godley, the biographical notes are supplemented by photographs taken at (and around) Cass field station in the years 1935 - 1939.

Mrs Gillian Alfredson (Queensland, Australia), Ellen Heine's daughter kindley provided the photographs and correspondence associated with them.

Cass field station 1938-1939.
Back row: Allen ?, Bertha Nurse, Ellen Heine, Maurice Bleakey, Charles Foweraker
Front: Jean Thompson, Edith ?, ? Johns

More photographs at the end of these biographical notes.

Biographical Notes (63): Ellen Minna Heine (Bleakly) 1907-1989

E.J. Godley, Research Associate, Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln.

Although Ellen Heine's botanical career was short and her publications only 3 in number (1 popular) she made important contributions in 2 quite different fields: the anatomy and classification of the brown seaweed Xiphophora of our coasts (1) and the possible relationship between the insect fauna of New Zealand and the characteristics of our native flowers (2). Her roots lay in the German (Lutheran) settlement concentrated in the Moutere Valley in Nelson where her paternal grandfather had been the pastor (3) and she is the second New Zealand botanist descended from these settlers, the first being Frederick Neve (1871-1945) author of the highly successful textbook of elementary botany, first published in 1916(4).

Ellen was born in Wellington on 20 August, 1907, the fourth daughter and youngest child of the 6 children born to Augustus Heine and his wife Clara Lucy Minna (born Wolff). Within a week of Ellen's birth her mother died of measles, and on 20 January 1909, Augustus married Clara's cousin Lucy Amelie Wolff (5). Augustus taught at Wellington College from 1882 to 1922 and was First Assistant from 1892. In 1902 and 1912 he was Acting-Headmaster while J.P. Firth took sabbatical leave (3, 6). After Ellen's parents retired to Ngatitama Street, Nelson, in 1922 she boarded at Wellington Girls' High School and spent holidays with relatives on farms near Upper Moutere or in Canterbury (5). She entered Victoria University College in 1925 and graduated MSc with Honours in Botany in 1929 with a thesis entitled "Notes on the leaf structure of the NZ Astelias."(7)

Miss Heine's subsequent career can be outlined as follows:

1930: Appointed botanical assistant, Dominion Museum, Wellington; the Annual Report stated: "The work of mounting the Petrie herbarium is proceeding. Some local collecting by the botanical assistant was done on the Tararua Mountains. Research work on the microscopic structure of New Zealand timbers is being carried out"; the Director, W.R.B. Oliver wrote in his paper on New Zealand epiphytes (8): "Recently Miss E.M. Heine of the Dominion Museum staff has investigated the nature of the leaf of Astelia solandri and has proved that the absorbing organs are the bases of hairs, also that the outer cellulose layer of the "cuticle" as above described is composed of coalesced hairs The absorbing organs therefore function in conducting water from the outer cellulose layer to the mesophyll". Granted _15 by the New Zealand Institute for research in the pollination of New Zealand plants (9).

1931: No mention in the Museum's Annual Report.

1932: On 16 March reported to the New "Zealand Institute (9) that "she had undertaken two expeditions to Mount Holdsworth and one to the Waihao Gorge to enable her to study the pollination of the plants in their natural surroundings. Besides these two expeditions she has visited Kapiti, Mount Hector, and Mount Monganui [s/'c] at her own expense with the idea of comparing the results with those obtained at Wilton's Bush and other local bush areas. During the year 119 species of plants included in 35 genera have been examined, and the frequency and efficiency of the different species of insects visiting have been noted, and several hundreds of insects collected and examined to determine the quantity and kinds of pollen found on them. The whole of the grant has been expended." The Museum's Annual Report stated" "from Mount Hector, in the Tararuas, a good series of specimens of the North Island "vegetable sheep" was obtained. An important donation is the herbarium built up by Dr L. Cockayne CMG, FRS during his many botanical explorations. The labels are being carefully looked over by Dr Cockayne before the specimens are transferred to the Museum".
Her seaweed paper was published.

1933: On 7 April reported to the New Zealand Institute that "since her last report she had been accumulating more data, and she is now only waiting for a further identification of insects by the Museum Entomologist [Miss E.A. Plank] before she can publish a full account of the results" (10); "the transference to the museum of Dr Cockayne's botanical collections was completed during the year" (Ann. Rept Dom. Mus.}.

1934: Gave talks on "Broadcasts to Schools" on "Peculiar Plants" (11); made a collecting expedition to the Garvie Mountains, Central Otago {Ann. Rept. Dom. Mus.)

1935 Appointed assistant to Mr C.E. Foweraker, Lecturer, Biology Dept, Canterbury College, Christchurch; read a paper to the Canterbury Philosophical Institute on 2 October entitled "Observations on the Pollination of New Zealand Flowering Plants".

1936 Wrote a popular article for "The City Beautiful" on "The Native Vegetation at Cass, mid-Canterbury" (12); on 7 November left for a brief trip to England (5).

1937: Arrived back 1 March (5); pollination paper issued separately in Sept.

1938: On 12 October married Maurice Cameron Bleakly (5).

1939: Left Auckland with husband 24 August on RMS Rangitoto, she to become exchange lecturer in botany at Westfield Women's College, London, and he to study for a doctorate in zoology at Oxford (5); war broke out on 3 Sept.; arrived London 2 October; Westfield evacuated to Oxford (5).

1941: First child, Gillian Sara, born at Oxford in January (5).

1942: Second child, Christopher John, born Bushey Hospital, Hertfordshire, in December (5).

1946: In March to Brisbane, where Maurice Bleakly had been appointed a lecturer in the University of Queensland (5).

In Brisbane Ellen was an active member of the Lyceum Club, the Staff Wives Club, and the Royal Queensland Art Society. She attended art classes, painted in both oils and water-colours, and exhibited in 1960s' Art Society exhibitions; and she gardened. On at least 3 occasions she revisited New Zealand: with the family in 1947, visiting relatives in Wellington, Nelson, and Christchurch; in 1966 with her husband, on their way back from sabbatical leave in Europe; and in February, 1978. She died in Brisbane on 27 July, 1989 and her husband soon afterwards. The ashes of both are at Buderim Lawn Cemetery (5).

Miss Heine's aim in her 1937 paper was "to get a general view of the relationship between plants and insects in New Zealand rather than to examine a few exceptional cases of flowers with peculiar pollinating contrivances". As a result she assembled a most valuable list of insect visitors to the flowers of many native plants (see also above); in addition she proposed that the absence of long- tongued bees in our indigenous fauna and the predominance of short-tongued bees and flies as pollinators has led to the lack of red, blue and purple flowers in our flora, and the predominance of whites, yellows and greens. She also suggested "the adaptation of New Zealand flowers to pollination by short-tongued bees and flies has led to a predominance of short tubes and exposed pollen and pistil, which in its turn results in reversion to unisexual flowers to avoid self-pollination".

More recent work has suggested that many of the characteristics of our New Zealand flowers have evolved in other places and at other times, and that our insect fauna is simply taking pollen and nectar from whatever source it can. Despite this, Miss Heine's work remains an important milestone in the history of flower biology in New Zealand providing a set of concepts which New Zealand flower biologists could discuss and develop during the renaissance of the subject after World War II.


I am very grateful to Dr Elizabeth Flint (Christchurch) for putting me in touch with Mrs Gillian Alfredson (Queensland), Ellen Heine's daughter, who kindly gave me much information about her mother's life. I am also grateful to Ms Tanja Webster (Landcare Research, Lincoln), Elizabeth Jensen and Sue Molloy (Christchurch) for help with references; and Mrs Wendy Weller for help with typing.


(1) E.M. Heine 1932: The New Zealand species of Xiphophora with some account of the development of the oogonium. Ann. Bot. 46: 557-569; (2) E.M. Heine 1937: Observations on the Pollination of New Zealand Flowering Plants. Trans. <S Proc. Roy. Soc. NZ 67: 133-148; (3) Frank M. Leckie 1934: The early history of Wellington College. Christchurch etc. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd; (4) E.J. Godley 1999: Biographical Notes (35): Frederick Neve MA, LIB, BSc (1871-1945). NZ Bot. Soc. Newsletter 57: 23-25; (5) Family records; (6) James Hight & Alice Candy, 1927: A short history of Canterbury College, Christchurch; (7) Union list of University theses; (8) W.R.B. Oliver (1930): New Zealand epiphytes. Journ. Ecol. 18: (9) Trans & Proc. NZ Institute 63: XXIII; (10) Trans. & Proc. NZ Inst. 64: XVII; (11) Helen Paske (1979): A legend leaves the airwaves. NZ Listener 1 Dec.; (12) E.M. Heine 1936: The native vegetation at Cass, Mid-Canterbury. The City Beautiful July 31: 12-13; (13) Fresh Varsity Fields. London-Christchurch exchange. NZ Freelance 28 Feb. 1940.

The following are a collection of photographs by Ellen Heine taken around the Cass field station 1935-1939.

Cass Biology Station 1938-1939

Waiting for the train at Cass. The person reading the paper is Bertha Nurse.

Cass Biological Station. Ellen Heine second from left Mary Sutherland far right. Probably taken about 1935-1936 the decking they are sitting on is later covered-in as shown in the first photograph.

Another earlier photograph 1935-1936. Mary Sutherland sitting.

Cass Biological Station 1938-1939

Field work at Cass 1938-1939. From left Bertha Nurse, Charles Foweraker, Ellen Heine, Allen ?, ? Johns, Edith ?

Field work around Cass 1935-1939.

On Betwixt - near Cass ? Allan, Johns, Edith, Ellen Heine.

Inside the Cass Biological Station laboratory 1935-1939.

Around Cass 1938-1939 Bertha Nurse and Charles Foweraker (with hat) in the middle of the picture.

On the slopes near Cass 1935-1939. Presumably Charles Foweraker on left.

Ellen Heine is the only person to be identified in this picture taken during a collecting trip at Cass 1935-1939..

Charles Foweraker is the only person identified in this picture (2nd from left) taken at Cass 1935-1939.

Another picture with Charles Foweraker 3rd from left, presumably around Cass 1935-1939.

Elen Heine presumably taken at Cass 1935-1939.

More photographs around the Cass field station 1935-1939

Photographs of Arthur's Pass 1935-1939