Burbank was an American botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer of
agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties
of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank's varied creations included
fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables. He developed a
spineless cactus (useful for cattle-feed) and the plumcot.
most successful strains and varieties include the Shasta daisy,
the Fire poppy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the
Flaming Gold nectarine, the Burbank plum, the Freestone peach,
and the Burbank potato. Burbank also bred the white blackberry
and the nectarine. A natural sport (genetic variant) of the Burbank
potato with russet (reddish-brown) skin later became known as
the Russet-Burbank potato: this large, brown-skinned, white-fleshed
potato has become the predominant processing potato in the United
States of America.
Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Burbank grew up on a farm and
received only an elementary education. The thirteenth of 15 children,
he enjoyed the plants in his mother's large garden. His father
died when he was 21 years old, and Burbank used his small inheritance
to buy a 17-acre (69,000 m²) plot of land near Lunenberg.
developed the Burbank potato in 1871. Burbank sold the rights
to the Burbank potato for $150 and used the money to travel to
Santa Rosa, California, in 1875. Later, a natural sport of 'Burbank'
potato with russetted skin was selected and named 'Russet Burbank'.
Today, the 'Russet Burbank' potato is the most widely cultivated
potato in the United States, prized for processing. McDonald's
French fries are made exclusivly from this cultivar.
Santa Rosa, Burbank purchased a 4-acre plot of land, and established
a greenhouse, nursery, and experimental fields that he used to
conduct crossbreeding experiments on plants, inspired by Charles
Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.
Later he purchased an 18-acre plot of land in the nearby town
of Sebastopol for more experimental growing.
113 plums and prunes
35 fruiting cacti
Grains, grasses, forage
his career, Burbank wrote several books on his methods and results,
including his eight-volume How Plants Are Trained to Work for
Man (1921), Harvest of the Years (with Wilbur Hall, 1927), Partner
of Nature (1939), and the 12-volume Luther Burbank: His Methods
and Discoveries and Their Practical Application. Burbank also
published in 1893 a descriptive catalog of some of his best varieties,
entitled called New Creations in Fruits and Flowers'.
Training of the Human Plant
Some Interesting Failures: The Petunia with the Tobacco Habit,
The Almond and Its Improvement: Can It Be Grown Inside of the
Four Burbank Plums, and How They were Made: Methods Which Brought
Corn: The King of America's Crops: Not Only Better Corn, But a
Better Stalk and Why
Twenty-three Potato Seeds and What They Taught A Glimpse at the
Influence of Heredity
Other Useful Plants Which Will Repay Experiment: Transformations
and Improvements Waiting to Be Made
How Plants Adapt Themselves to Conditions: The Influence of Environment
The Tomato and an Interesting Experiment: A Plant which Bore Potatoes
Below and Tomatoes Above
The Rivalry of Plants To Please Us: On the Forward March of Adaptation
How the Cactus Got Its Spines and How It Lost Them: A Sidelight
on the Importance of Environment
Some Plants which are Begging for Immediate Improvement: Some
Plants which are Begging for Immediate Improvement
Manufacturing Food for the Live Stock: Some Suggestions on Clover,
Timothy and Alfalfa
Plants Which Yield Useful Chemical Substances: Observations on
Sugar Cane, Hops and Sugar Beets
Short-Cuts into the Centuries to Come: Better Plants Secured by
What to Work for in Flowers: And How to Proceed
No Two Living Things Exactly Alike: Infinite Ingenuity the Price
Fixing Good Traits: How to Hold a Result Once Achieved
How Far Can Plant Improvement Go?: The Crossroads Where Fact and
Theory Seem to Part
The Burbank Cherry: The Explanation of a Double Improvement
My Life and Work with Fruits and Flowers
Burbank's new creations and special new selections in seeds
Proof book number 1
How nature makes plants to our order
Luther Burbank, his methods and discoveries and their practical
application: A synopsis
Fundamental principles of plant breeding: Production of new trees,
fruits and flowers : plants and children
Another mode of species forming
Advance offering of pedigreed Burbank novelties: Fruits and flowers
direct from Burbank nurseries, season 1912-1913
New plants to feed the world: And other articles by and about
Luther Burbank from Orchard and Farm
The new Shasta daisies: "Alaska", "California",
The fundamental principles of plant breeding
Plant breeding (How his first plants are trained to work for man)
He also wrote two books unrelated to botany: Piecing the Fragments
of a Motion Picture Film : We Stop to Take a Backward Glance and
also had interests in religion and in education reform, writing
"Why I am an Infidel" in E. Haldeman-Julius' Little
Blue Book #1020. He befriended Paramahansa Yogananda during the
last several years of his life. Yogananda wrote about Burbank
in chapter 38 of his autobiography, describing him as the ideal
of an American saint.
mid-March 1926, Burbank became ill with gastrointestinal complications.
He died on April 11, 1926.
Burbank's work spurred the passing of the 1930 Plant Patent Act
four years after his death. The legislation made it possible to
patent new varieties of plants (excluding tuber-propagated plants).
In supporting the legislation, Thomas
Edison testified before
Congress in support of the legislation and said that "This
[bill] will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks." The authorities
issued Plant Patents #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #18, #41, #65, #66,
#235, #266, #267, #269, #290, #291, and #1041 to Burbank posthumously.
1986, Burbank was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of
Fame. His home and gardens in downtown Santa Rosa are designated
as a National Historic Landmark.
town of Burbank, California, does not take its name from Burbank,
but from the Los Angeles dentist David Burbank; however, the horticulturist
gave his name to Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank. The
Luther Burbank School District in San Jose and the Luther Burbank
Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa (and that city's Luther Burbank
Rose Parade and Festival) also honor Luther Burbank.
University of Wisconsin's Digital Collections Center has digitized
and published online the 12-volume monographic series Luther Burbank:
His Methods and Discoveries, which documents Burbank's methods
and discoveries and their practical application.
1931 the Boys Parental School located on Mercer Island, Washington
changed its name to Luther Burbank School. The school continued
to function until 1966. The land on which the school was built
was bought by King County and converted into Luther Burbank Park.
standard botanical author abbreviation for Burbank consists simply