Dr. Janaki Ammal

Dr. Janaki Ammal

Botanist

Born in 1897, Dr. Janaki Ammal was India’s first female botanist and was the first Indian woman to receive a doctorate degree in botany in the U.S. In 1913, literacy among women in India was less than one percent. She came to the U.S. in 1924 and researched plant cytology at the University of Michigan, the breeding of hybrids from different plant species. She used her expertise to develop sugarcane crops suited to India’s climate. She moved to England to work at the John Innes Institute where she co-authored the Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants. At the Royal Horticultural Society, she studied how to rapidly grow larger plants using colchicine. A magnolia variety and a hybrid rose were named after her. Following a series of famines, she returned to India at the request of the Prime Minister to use her knowledge to help increase food production. However, disagreed with the deforestation taking place in an effort to grow more food. She became an advocate for the preservation of native plants and successfully saved the Silent Valley from a hydroelectric project. It is now a national park.

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