Botanical Doctor 

Plant Science Simplified.

Dr Galloway next to large swiss cheese plant


Dr Andrew Fife Hopkins-Galloway is a multi-award winning horticulturist and plant science expert based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and is behind the Botanical Doctor.  Dr Hopkins-Galloway has created this website to showcase his work within the field, and to help inform people with a general interest in the science behind plants. Dr Hopkins-Galloway is a freelance plant scientist, botanist and horticulturist who has a strong passion for all things plants.

This site also aims to simplify plant biology into easy-to-read chapters, which will explain the five most frequently asked questions that people can ask: Why? What? When? How? and Who? By the end of each chapter you would have learnt a little more about the science of plants. If you are from more of a technical facet of plant biology why not try research pages which will provides details of Dr Hopkins-Galloway's latest findings. 

For more information about Dr Hopkins-Galloway please refer to the background page. If you wish to get in touch you can do via the contact form. 

Commissioning Articles

Dr Hopkins-Galloway carries out freelance work writing short bespoke articles, not scientific peer-reviewed works, on general science-related topics or articles summaries peer-reviewed works. If you are looking for someone to write a general article, find out more.

Instagram @andrewfifegalloway 

Keys to Success for Budding Plant Scientists 

Houseplants in pots together on the floor

In life I have found that there are five key skills that you need to succeed accomplishing your career goals. As an undergraduate I studied horticulture, which was quite a practical course with many interdisciplinary subjects including: taxonomy, plant science, business and finance, and management of people and resources. These subjects had prepared me well for a career in the horticultural industry. However, I decided to move into plant biology, which is more focused on the biomolecular aspect of plants. This change was quite tough but the following key skills that I have followed quite avidly helped me to get through the changes. After crossing industries I had successfully passed a Masters in Science Degree in Plant Science and Biotechnology, and managed to get onto a PhD research programme.


In order to accomplish any goal such as a degree, job or assignment you need to be dedicated. Dedication is quite hard to maintain, particularly when the goal is challenging. However, if it was easy people would not be motivated to complete a task. To keep your motivation during a goal, you need to keep thinking about the end result, for example, during my PhD times will be tough, my social life will be compromised, and my patience will be tried particularly when things do not go to plan. However, at the end of my PhD I could gain a doctorate, have added to the knowledge pool of science, increase my experience of working in a scientific background, and developed a set of skills, and techniques require to become a research scientist. Along with dedication you will need to have patience. Most of the time things will be delayed, people who you require assistance from will be unavailable, and machinery may breakdown, all due to unforeseen circumstances. If you keep thinking about the bigger picture, these small issues will not matter so much. In my experience I have found that although things may not go to plan, you can still achieve your goals if you are organised enough.


Many people are aware that organisation is a good thing when it comes to achieving goals and grabbing opportunities, yet not many individuals describe themselves as organised. For me organisation is like a train time table, you must be able to run several different tasks at the same time to be able to achieve a particular goal, for example, during my research I have several hours a day of incubation times. Instead of watching cat videos I plan ahead and run another experiment parallel to the one I was running before, just like a train time table. If something goes wrong build-ups can occur just like when trains are delayed causing chaos, so detailed planning and schedule is required. On Sundays, I tend to organise the following week by adding events onto my online calendar, and reflect on the last week to overcome areas of inefficiency. Another tip to become organised is time management. If you have a train to catch or a meeting to attend, then arrive with plenty of time to spare. This is obvious, and sometimes it is not practice but it is the best thing to do. If you are bored waiting, then you could practice what you have to say at a meeting, go for a walk to clear your mind, or catch up with friends on social media.


Clear and concise communication is vital to portray your message through writing or a presentation. The best advice for writing a report is to collect all of your notes, get to know you subject area well, formulate a plan of how to structure the report, put all your notes aside and just write. Even if your word document is full of grammar, punctuation or spelling errors just keep writing. Once you have completed a chapter or section heading go back and get the computer spell checker to check the errors. Once complete, go back and read it out loud and address the issues. Then leave the chapter or report for a few days if possible, and proofread again. Try to get someone else to proofread it for you to check for errors you have missed. There will always been errors, and different people will pick up on different aspects of your writing. For me I do not submit a report unless it has been proofread at least eight times. This is important to clearly and concisely convey your message. The same principle applies to power point slides, articles and flyers; anything that requires you to convey a message. For presentations other methods of communication such as body language are important factors to consider.


Determination is quite hard to quantify but it is generally what drives people to complete tasks. For me getting results and expanding upon areas of science that are underdeveloped, drives me. For others this could be financial, family-related or just because they are passionate. Similarly to dedication there must be an element of motivation. When times get tough motivation can be negatively affected. During these times, I generally like to motivate myself on a day-to-day basis; focusing on the end goal. If you find that focusing on the end goal is too tough use small treats. These treats can be food such as cake, biscuits or chocolate, going out to buy clothes, or promising yourself to visit a place that interests you. This carrot-on-a-stick approach will likely help you through tough times but this is a short term measure. If low motivation continues then ask for help from your colleagues, supervisor or talk to others that your trust, this generally helps. 

Problem solving

The final key is problem solving. Problems occur on a daily basis and many of them are easily fixed, of which we do not generally think about. However, for bigger problems time is needed to think of a solution. Good problem solving skills are necessary to cope with life. From late deliveries, items going missing, machinery breaking down to computers crashing, it is best to think of a back-up plan if these problems arise. During my research, deliveries have been late, and I generally re-organised my schedule so that I could continue my work. Sometimes this cannot happen as all of your current research requires that delivery. In this situation you would fall back on your organisational and time management skills, and think of additional work such as reading around the subject. To overcome a problem generally you need to identify the problem, understand the problem by observation, look for possible solution through research, then implement this solution, and finally monitor this solution to examine how well it works. Then if the problem is fixed update your way of doing things.

The role of plants in protecting our soil?

Seedlings growing in clump of soil placed in hand

Role of plant roots

Plant roots do not just take up water from the soil but they secrete various compounds into the soil. These compounds include a whole range of organic substances including protein, sugar, long-chains of sugars or polysaccharides, and even DNA. Collectively these organic substances are called root exudate. Another part of this root exudate are cells, which actively detach themselves from the root and continue to grow, and secrete root exudates for up to several months. These cells along with the main root exudate form a complex network, which modifies the surrounding soil making the local environment more suitable for plants to proliferate. These organic substances have a variety of functions within the soil, from defending the root from invading pests and disease to increasing the availability of nutrients. The secreted polysaccharides from roots, which are collectively referred to as root mucilage, lubricate the roots so that they can penetrate through the soil so that they can access water and nutrients from the soil below. These secreted polysaccharides are derived from a mixture of plant cell debris from burst root cells, and active secretion by living cells.

Secreted polysaccharides cause soil to clump

Secreting these polysaccharides comes at a great cost to the plant. These secreted polysaccharides use up to 60% of the energy generated by plants through their leaves; during the commonly known process of photosynthesis. The exact functions of these secreted polysaccharides other than to lubricate the roots remains uncertain. However, the latest research has demonstrated that these polysaccharides secreted by many plants, particularly crop plants such as wheat can cause soil to clump. This may seem counter-intuitive as when roots bury down into the soil, soil clumping would increase the work plants need to undertake to bury further down into the soil. Soil clumping to roots can increase the uptake of water from soil, nutrients and can help plant roots to form critical relationships with soil dwelling bacteria and fungi, which helps plants to access the viral nutrients for them to grow.

Plants adapt their environment

As plants cannot move when their environment becomes hostile like us, plants must adapt. One way plants do this is by secreting polysaccharides into the soil so that they can adapt the soil’s local environment to their needs. Plants are remarkable clever in the ways they can modify their environment and surrounding life, for instance, plants produce seed in order to spread their genetics similar to us having children. For seeds to be produce by many plants, plants require the aid of animals such as bees to pollinate flowers. Plants also produce fruits to cover their seeds in order for animals to eat them, and spread their genetics by animals carrying them within their stomachs until animals eventually deposit them in their dung. When you think about it, we as humans produce millions of tonnes of fruit for us to consume. You could say that plants to a degree control us in the way they needs us to spread their genetics. For plants to produce fruit that will successfully spread their genetics, they produce fruit that are suited to our desires such as sweetness, colour or texture. In summary, without plants we cannot eat, clothe ourselves, produce medicines and so on. Plants are crucial for all life on the land, and for most of the products that we know and consume.

Significance of secreted polysaccharides

These secreted polysaccharides are available in an industrial form. These equivalent polysaccharides to the secreted polysaccharides of plant roots can also cause soil to clump. These commercial polysaccharides could be used as a soil conditioner, which would prevent soil from eroding. Additionally, these polysaccharides could make the soil’s environment more suitable for plants, thus making them an ideal substitution for inorganic fertilisers, which have a negative large scale impact on the environment. These inorganic fertilisers also pollute many water sources, including rivers and lakes, causing the collapse of many aquatic ecosystems around the world. These secreted polysaccharides have the vast potential to increase global crop yields at a greater efficiency compared to traditional fertilisers, and without the negative impact on the environment and ecosystems. These polysaccharides have also been demonstrated to be secreted from early land plants suggesting that they played an important role in forming the Earth’s first soils. Soil is viral for plant growth, and many millions of other species, that support all land-based ecosystems including our own civilisation. These secreted polysaccharides may have played a role in clumping early soil particles, which modified the environment to suit early plants. This led to the modern day environments that we commonly recognise and enjoy.


Secreted polysaccharides may initially seem unimportant at first glance but they may have played a vital role in the development of the first soils, and helping plants to access the resources that they require for their growth. Many people do not think that plant roots play an important role as they are hidden by soil but they play a crucial role as outlined in this article. 

Potential Implications

This research may have both ecological and agricultural implications. From this research secreted polysaccharides have been demonstrated to increase soil aggregation. By increasing soil aggregation, soil which has suffered from over-cultivation and soil erosion could be regenerated. Regenerating degraded soil would increase land productivity, and would protect areas of ecological importance by reducing the demand for deforestation. Growers could alter the amounts of polysaccharides released from crops to manipulate the relationship that plants have with beneficial fungi and bacteria. This could increase crop yields without genetic modification, long-term sustainability of crop production, and increase crop resilience against climate change.

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