Ganapathi Thanikaimoni

Ganapathi Thanikaimoni

Infobox Person
name = Ganapathi Thanikaimoni
birth_date = January 1, 1938
birth_place =
death_date = September 5, 1986 (aged 48)
death_place = Karachi, Pakistan
other_names = Thani
known_for = Contributions to the science of palynology
occupation = Botanist

Ganapathi Thanikaimoni (January 1, 1938September 5, 1986), often referred to as "Thani" was widely known for his manifold contributions to the science of palynology. He was married to Krishnaveni (aka "Kitty") in 1970 and the couple had a son Ravindran (aka "Ravi") and a daughter called Kirthana.

Early life and education

Born on New Year's Day, 1938 in Madras-India, "Thani" received the Master of Science degree in Botany in 1962 at the University of Madras under the direction of the eminent plant morphologist, Professor B.G.L. Swamy. At the same time Thani was awarded the prestigious "Fyson Prize" in Natural Science, which is reserved for truly outstanding Indian naturalists.

In 1970 Thani was granted the doctorate degree by the University of Montpellier in recognition of his erudite and comprehensive thesis on the pollen morphology, classification and phylogeny of 800 species of extant Palmae (=Arecaceae).

Scientific career

Thani took a position of scientist in the newly-founded (1960) Palynology Laboratory of the French Institute of Pondicherry (fr:"Institut Français de Pondichéry") under the direction of Dr.Prof. Guinet. Within a few years Thani's scientific and administrative abilities were recognized by his promotion to the directorship of these laboratories.

During the next decade this tireless and prolific worker published numerous significant papers concerning such essentially tropical families as the Araceae, Clusiaceae, Menispermaceae, Mimosaceae and Sonnera tiaceae [see Palynos 8(2): 7, Dec 1985] . In the majority of these publications, he not only gave a complete and accurate description of the pollen morphology of the species he examined, but also included the morphology of the other plant organs, in order to elucidate their probable phylogenv and to justify the classification schemes selected.

Although the bulk of Dr. Thanikaimoni's early research dealt with pollen of modern flora, in the late 1970s turned his attention to fossil pollen as well. In 1983 he convened a workshop for French and Indian palynologists in Pondicherry " [ICP Newsletter 6(1):6-7] " with the goal of clarifying the taxonomy of angiosperm pollen previously described from Tertiary horizons of tropical Africa and India. For this project Thani's collection of more than 20,000 slides of tropical palynomorphs was of inestimable value. From this cooperative endeavor, a clear synthesis of 47 taxa was obtained and published. Furthermore, he had recently been active in organizing a symposium on Tertiary pollen from tropical regions for the 7th IPC in Brisbane, Australia.

Despite Dr. Thanikaimoni's previously-mentioned important contributions to the science of palynology, he probably received his greatest international recognition and acclaim for his scholarly - volume compilation of the literature on the morphology of angiosperm pollen - "Index Bibliographique sur la Morphologic des Pollens d'Angiospermes", which he initiated in 1972. His wife, Kitty, mother of their two young children, gave him invaluable assistance in the preparation of these significant publications. These volumes are indispensable bibliographic aids in the laboratories of all practicing actuopalynologists.

Dr Thanikaimoni has been referred to as "a palynologic well of erudition" - this expression fits him exactly, since he was cognizant of almost every aspect of palynology.

Environmental Protection

As knowledge of the significant role that mangrove ecosystems play in the tropical coastal zone grew world-wide, it also became clear that mangroves are marginal ecosystems, vulnerable to sudden or drastic changes in the environment. Mangroves do not recover spontaneously after the impact of natural or man made catastrophic events such as cyclones or total felling of the mangrove forests.

In Pondicherry, he advised the Government on matters pertaining to the protection of the coastline, rehabilitation of arid areas and the impact of human development on the local ecosystem.

Thani was instrumental in focusing attention to the tremendous ecological role that the mangrove ecosystem played in protecting coastlines from tidal waves ("Tsunami") and land erosion. He spear-headed scientific initiatives centered around the mangrove ecosystem at Pichavaram.

He was involved in UNESCO's "Asia and Pacific Mangrove Project" - a multidisciplinary integrated initiative for a better understanding of the structure and function of mangrove ecosystems for sustainable use and management.

Thani's scientific contribution in the realm of mangrove ecology are recorded in the posthumously published "Palynology Manual". He left behind him a first-class work that is a benchmark for the identification of pollen from species of mangrove plants of ages past.

Untimely demise

Thani was on his way to the US when the airplane in which he was flying, Pan Am Flight 73, was hijacked in Karachi, Pakistan on September 5, 1986. Thani sustained fatal injuries to the head in the gun-battle which followed an attempt by Pakistani commandos to storm the aircraft and kill the terrorists. It was reported that he was trying to extend help to a child when he was struck by bullets and shrapnel from an exploding grenade carried by the terrorists..

He had been invited to present a lecture at a symposium on marine palynology, as a part of the UNESCO-sponsored "Second International Conference on Paleo-oceanography" that was held from September 6-12 at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, USA.


Thani is regarded as possibly the most able Indian palynologist in his field. Thani's initiative in starting and supporting the joint project compiling palynological information on the Tertiary of India and developing comparisons with previously described flora of Africa was an enormous achievement, both in palynology and public relations. He hoped that this would be the beginning of a major international collaborative effort. Thus it is gratifying to report that the French Institute in Pondicherry plans to continue this project which was so dear to his heart.


Article compiled from write-ups by (late) Stanley A. J. Pocock (Canada), Claude Caratini (CEGET, Bordeaux-Talence), Annick Le Thomas (EPHE, Paris), Dr. M. Vannucci (ISME, Okinawa & UNESCO, Paris) and (late) Dr. Pierre Legris (IFP, Pondicherry).


(1) Contribution to the pollen morphology of Eriocaulaceae. Pollen Spores 7: 181-191. 1965.

(2) Pollen morphology of the genus Utricularia. Pollen Spores 8: 265-284. 1966.

(3) Contribution a I'etude palynologique des Palmiers. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Tray. Sect. Sci. Tech. (2): 1-92. 1966.

(4) Pollen morphology of Sonneratiaceae. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Trciv. Sect. Sci. Tech. 5(2): 1-12. 1966 (With DMA. Jayaweera).

(5) Morphologie des pollens des Menispermacees. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Trciv. Sect. Sci. Tech. 5(4): 1-57. 1968.

(6) Esquisse palynologique des Aracees. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Tray. Sect. Sci. Tech. 5(5): 1-31. 1969.

(7) Les Palmiers: palynologie et systematique. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Tray. Sect. Sci. Tech. 11: 1-286. 1970. (From his D. Sc. thesis at the Univ. of Montpellier).

(8) Pollen morphology, classification and phylogeny of Palmae. Ada nsonici 10: 347-365. 1970.

(9) Bomarea lyncina Mirb. (Amaryllidaceae) and Auriculiidites Elsik. Pollen Spores 12(2): 177-180. 1970. (With W.C. Elsik).

(10) Quelques resultats d'analyses polliniques sur les Nilgiri. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Tray. Sect. Sci. Tech. 10: 127-139. 1971.

(11) Palynology in Pondicherry. J. Palynol. 8: 156-162. 1972. (With P. Legris).

(12) Pollen morphologie. Pp. 1-63 IN: Revision du Arophyteae (Araceae) (J. Bogner, ed). Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 92: 1972. (With F. Blasco).

(13) Sarraceniaceae: palynology and systematics. Pollen Spores 14: 143-155. 1972. (With C. Vasanthy).

(14) Index bibliographique sur la morphologie des pollens d'Angiospermes. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Tray. Sect. Sci. Tech. 12 et seq. Five volumes. 1972-1986.

(15) Relation between the pollen spectra and the vegetation of a south Indian mangrove. Pollen Spores 15: 281-292, 1973. (With C. Caratini and F. Blasco).

(16) Late Quaternary vegetational history of the southern region. Pp. 632-643 IN: Aspects and appraisal of Indian palaeobotany (K. Surange et al., eds.) B. Sahni Inst. Palaeobot., Lucknow. 1974. (With F. Blasco).

(17) Pollen analysis. Pp. 37-54 IN: Laang Spean and the prehistory of Cambodia by R. Mourer. Modern Quaternary Research in S.E. Asia. 1977.

(18) L'analyse pollinique de debris archeologiques du Borobudur. Mern. Archeol. E.F.E.O., Paris 12: 69-72. 1977.

(19) Pollen morphological terms; proposed definitions. Proc. IVint. Palynol. Conf., Lucknow 1: 223-239. 1978.

(20) Principal works on the pollen morphology of the Compositae. Pp. 249-265 IN: The biology and chemistry of the Compositae (V.H. Hay-wood et al, eds.) Academic Press, New York. 1977.

(21) Mangroves of India: palynological study and recent history of the vegetation. Proc. IV Jut. Palynol. Conf., Lucknow 3: 49-59. 1978. (With C. Caratini and C. Tissot).

(22) Index palynologius. Proc. IV Jut. Palynol. Conf., Lucknow 3: 344-348. 1978.

(23) Pollen morphology of primitive angiosperms: some neglected aspects. Proc. IV Int. Palynol. Conf., Lucknow 1: 542-545. 1978. (With F. RolandHeydacker).

(24) Morphological index to Van Campo's African pollen atlas. Bull. Inst. Foudam. Afr. Noire 41A: 286-299. 1979. (With C. Vibichanaraw).

(25) Palynological investigation on the Borobudur monument. Bull. E.F.E.O. 72: 237-250. 1983.

(26) Palynological report on the Satingpra (Thailand) samples. In Satingpra. I. The environmental and economic archaeology of South Thailand, J. STARGARDT. British Archaeological Research International Series no 158. Oxford, 1983.

(27) Menispermacees: palynologie et systematique. Inst. Fr. Pondichtery, Trav. Sect. Sci. Tech. 13: 1-135. 1984. (With F. Roland, 1K. Ferguson, M.T. Cerceau & L. Derouet).

(28) Principal works on the pollen morphology of Myrtales. Ann. Mo. Bot. Card. 71(3): 970-985. 1984.

(29) Omniaperaturate Euphorbiaceae pollen with striate spines. Bull. lard. But. Ncitl. Belg. 54 (1/2): 105-125. 1984. (With C. Caratini, S. Nilsson & E. Grafstrom).

(30) Selected Tertiary Angiosperm pollens from India and their relationship with African Tertiary pollens. - Trav. Sect. Sci. Tech., Inst. Fr. Pondichéry 19:93 pp.72 pl. 1 map. 1984 (with C. Caratini, B.S. Venkatachala, C.G.K. Ramanujam & R.K. Kar (ed.))

(31) Palynology and phylogeny. Bibl. Bot., Stuttgart, 137: 11-14. 1985.

(32) Pollen apertures: form and function. Pp. 119-136 IN: Pollen and Spores; Form and Function (Black-more & Ferguson, eds.). Academic Press, London. 1985.

(33) Pollens d'Angiospermes du Tertiaire de I'Inde et leurs relations avec les pollens du Tertiaire d'Afrique. Inst. Fr. Pondichery, Trav. Sect. Sci. Tech. 19: (in press with multiple authors).

(34) Variation de l'aperture des Annonacees: tendances palynologiques nouvelles. IXe Symposium A.P.L.F., Montpellier, October, 1985. Mciii. E.P.H.E. Montpellier (In press, with A. Le Thomas).

(35) Mangrove Palynology. Pondichéry : Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1987.

Sources & External links

* Canadian Association of Palynologists (CAP) [ An in-depth look at some of the people who have influenced the discipline of Palynology - Dr. G. Thanikaimoni]

* American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists, Inc. (AASP) Palynos [ AASP Primary Records Program - Dr. G. Thanikaimoni]

* UNESCO Science & Technology in Asia and the Pacific Co-operation for Development [ The story of the UNESCO Mangrove Programme]

* French Institute of Pondicherry / Institut Francaise de Pondichery (IFP) [ Environment and Sustainable Development - Paleo-environments of South India]

* US Department of Justice (USDOJ) [ Hijacking of PanAm Flight 73 - Information on court proceedings of Pam Am Flight # 73]

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