Luther Burbank was born in Lancaster,
Massachusetts, on March 7, 1849, the son of a
farmer. Unable to attend school except during the
winter months, he got most of his education by
reading books at the local library; he was
particularly inspired by Charles Darwin's Variation
of Animals and Plants Under Domestication.
He graduated from Lancaster Academy high school
in 1868, after which he bought a 17-acre tract
near Lunenberg, where his natural curiosity led
him to begin experimenting with plants, to learn
their inherited traits, and to try and improve
each new crop.
In 1875, Burbank moved to Santa Rosa,
California, where he bought land for a nursery.
In a few years, he had established a prosperous
business. Not interested in business, however, he
sold the nursery in 1893 and set up an
experimental farm at nearby Sebastopol. His home
in Santa Rosa had many rare tres, shrubs, and
flowers. He died in Santa Rosa on April 11, 1926.
Burbank achieved results by crossing
(uniting two plants to produce a third) and selection
(choosing the best plants and rejecting the
inferior ones). He often grew thousands of plants
at one time in an effort to produce one improved
species, and every single offspring had to be
examined with painstaking care.
Burbank's first discovery came while he was
still in Massachusetts, after he planted the
contents of a seed pod from the rarely blooming
Early Rose Potato. The pod produced 23 widely
varying seedlings, each of which Burbank then
studied in order to determine which consistently
produced the highest quality potatoes. He
subsequently sold the best plant to a local plant
dealer for $150, and it was this money that
allowed him to move to California. An Idaho
farmer later created a variant on the Burbank
Potato, and the Burbank Russet is now the most
widely cultivated potato in the world.
Burbank developed several kinds of berries of
commercial value. The Primus Berry, the offspring
of the native California Dewberry and the
Siberian Raspberry, was the first-known fixed
species produced by man. The Phenomenal Berry,
derived from the California Wild Dewberry and the
Cuthbert Raspberry, is much larger than most
other berries and is light crimson in color,
while the White Blackberry is so transparent that
its tiny seeds are visible through its skin.
His experiments with plums and prunes
completely changed the growing of these fruits in
California. One remarkable creation is the
Plumcot, offspring of a Japanese Plum and the
apricot. Its flesh may be yellow, pink, white, or
crimson in color. He also developed a plum that
tastes like a Bartlett Pear. He created the
Pomato, a potato that resembles a small tomato,
by selecting from the fruit of the potato.
Burbank also developed several hundred new
ornamental plants, including the Shasta Daisy, a
cross between the English Daisy, the Wild
American Daisy, and their white Japanese cousin.
The Plant Patent Act of 1930 finally permitted
the protection of new and distinct varieties of
asexually reproduced plants, other than
tuber-propagated plants, and Burbank was granted
patent #'s 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 41, 65, 66,
235, 266, 267, 269, 290, 291, and 1041
The World Book Encyclopedia
Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International,
Questions or comments about