Phytochemistry, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 729-730, 1992. Pergamon Press plc.



Professor Bohlmann died from cancer in Berlin an 23 September 1991 at the age of 70, after a lifetime of phytochemical research. He was the most prolific organic chemist of his time and published alone or with co-authors some 1300 research papers. Most of these appeared in the Journal Phytochemistry and at his peak as many as 40 papers might appear in any one year. His Output might well be compared with that of Sir Robert Robinson. who dominated organic chemistry in the first half of this century and he rivalled Sir Robert in terms of his contribution to the structural elucidation of natural products. He discovered a phenomenal number of new compounds. Thus he reported more than 1200 new acetylenic compounds, while the number of terpenoids and other structures he described for the first time may be two or three times this figure.

Ferdinand Bohlmann was born an 28 August 1921 in Oldenburg. He studied chemistry at the University of Gottingen and spent some time at Marburg and Braunschweig before settling in Berlin in 1958. Here he became Director of the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Technical University where he remained until his death. He was married and had three children. He began his scientific career as a synthetic organic chemist working, for example, on the synthesis of lupin alkaloids. His interests then moved towards acetylenic compounds and he initiated a massive programme on the isolation and structural identification of these reactive substances in plants of the Umbelliferae, Compositae and related families. There were several other research groups working an plant acetylenes at the time, notably that of Sir Ewart Jones at Oxford, but he left these groups far behind with his immense energy and expertise in characterising these hydrocarbon derivatives and in determining their biosynthetic origin. His work an the acetylenes culminated in the publication in 1973 of Naturally Occurring Acetylenes written jointly with T. Burkhardt and Christa Zdero and published by Academic Press. He continued to work on acetylenes and related structures after that date and wrote a review an naturally occurring thiophenes with Christa Zdero in 1985 for a book on Heterocyclic Compounds edited by S. Gronowitz.

Not content with leading the field with acetylenes, Bohlmann began identifying other secondary compounds in plants especially sesquiterpene lactones. A Symposium held in Reading in 1975 and co-organised by the author, on the biology and chemistry of the Compositae may well have stimulated him to develop his phytochemical studies with plants of this family. In fact nearly all his publications from this date were devoted to the lipophilic chemistry of the Compositae. Working often with limited quantities of plant material, he separated the major constituents and identified them using principally proton NMR, UV and IR spectral data. His intuitive brilliance in chemical characterisation rarely let him down and many new compounds were first described by him, including some substances of novel type. The structures he encountered were terpenoids of all kinds, as well as coumarins, pyrones, phthalides, flavanones, styrenes, hydroxyacetophenones, alkaloids, fatty acids and many others. Although his Compositae Programme was carried out in a chemotaxonomic context using properly authenticated plant material, the systematic implications of his findings have yet to be fully developed. Some of the phytochemical data have been assembled in the book Diterpenes of Flowering Plants which he wrote in conjunction with F. Seaman, Christa Zdero and T. J. Mabry (Springer, 1990). Much of Bohlmann's acetylenic data is available in recent reviews on different tribes of the Compositae prepared by Dr J. Lam (see, e.g. Phytochemistry 1991, 30, 2453). But it remains for other scientists to complete the evaluation of the chemotaxonomic findings of this exceptional scientist. He has left us with an enormous body of new information on the chemical richness of this one plant family. With his immense energy and scientific brilliance, he has made a unique contribution to phytochemical knowledge.

In preparing these notes for publication I am grateful for help provided by Dr Jorgen Lam (Aarhus, Denmark), Professor L. Crombie, FRS (Nottingham) and Dr Christa Zdero (Berlin).

School of Plant Science,       JEFFREY B. HARBORNE
of Reading