Posted by: Ron DuBour | May 22, 2015

American Heroes~Luther Burbank (1849 –1926)~by rldubour

Friday!!! time for a look at another American Hero! Educational, historical, today we take a brief look at the life of:


Luther Burbank (1849 –1926)

The thirteenth of eighteen children

Born in eighteen-forty-nine.

In Lancaster, Massachusetts

Horticulture he would refine.


Developed the Burbank potato

From seventy-two to seventy-four.

His experiments on plants

Would bring the world much more.


He purchased four acres of land

When he moved to Santa Rosa.

Established a greenhouse and nursery

His new home in California.


Then purchased a farm in Sebastopol

For more experimental growing.

Named it the Gold Ridge Farm

Inspiration by Darwin was showing.


Was criticized by scientists

For his poor record keeping.

The norm in scientific research

Results were what he was seeking.


A descriptive catalog

He published in eighteen-ninety-three.

“New Creations of Fruits and Flowers”

Some of his best varieties.


By all accounts was a kindly man

Interested in education.

Modest with his scientific fame

Fifty-five years of dedication.


In March of nineteen-twenty-six

Burbank suffered a heart attack.

His worked spurred the passing

Of the nineteen-thirty Plant Patent Act.


Sixteen patents were issued

By Congress authority.

For the new varieties of plants

To Burbank posthumously.


His home a National Landmark

Was an American botanist.

A pioneer in agricultural science

And dedicated horticulturist.


AUTHOR NOTES: Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Burbank grew up on a farm and received only an elementary education. The thirteenth of 18 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 Lunenburg. Burbank developed the Burbank potato, 1872 to 1874. 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 potato. Today, the Russet Burbank potato is the most widely cultivated potato in the United States, prized for processing. McDonald’s french fries are made exclusively from this cultivar. In 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. (This site is now open to the public as a city park, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens.) Later he purchased an 18-acre plot of land in the nearby town of Sebastopol for more experimental growing called Gold Ridge Farm.

Burbank was criticized by scientists of his day because he did not keep the kind of careful records that are the norm in scientific research and because he was mainly interested in getting results rather than in basic research. Jules Janick, Ph.D., Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, writing in the World Book Encyclopedia, 2004 edition, says: “Burbank cannot be considered a scientist in the academic sense.” In 1893 Burbank published a descriptive catalog of some of his best varieties, entitled called New Creations in Fruits and Flowers. In 1907, Burbank published an “essay on childrearing,” called The Training of the Human Plant. In it, he advocated improved treatment of children and eugenic practices such as keeping the unfit and first cousins from marrying. During his career, Burbank wrote, or co-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. By all accounts, Burbank was a kindly man who wanted to help other people. He was very interested in education and gave money to the local schools. He married twice: to Helen Coleman in 1880, which ended in divorce in 1896; and to Elizabeth Waters in 1916. He had no children. In a speech given to the First Congregational Church of San Francisco in 1926 Burbank said: “I love humanity, which has been a constant delight to me during all my seventy-seven years of life; and I love flowers, trees, animals, and all the works of Nature as they pass before us in time and space. What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature, helping her to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food—new food for all the world’s untold millions for all time to come.” In mid-March 1926, Burbank suffered a heart attack and became ill with gastrointestinal complications. He died on April 11, 1926, aged 77, and is buried near the greenhouse at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. 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. In 1986, Burbank was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, in downtown Santa Rosa, are now designated as a National Historic Landmark. Luther Burbank’s Gold Ridge Experiment Farm is listed in the National Register of Historic Places a few miles west of Santa Rosa in the town of Sebastopol, California. Luther Burbank (March 7, 1849 – April 11, 1926) was an American botanist, horticulturist and a pioneer in 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. Burbank’s creations included: Fruits: 113 plums and prunes, 35 fruiting cacti, 16 blackberries, 13 raspberries, 11 quinces, 11 plumcots, 10 cherries, 10 strawberries,10 apples, 08 peaches, 06 chestnuts, 05 nectarines, 04 grapes, 04 pears, 03 walnuts,02 figs, and 01 almond. Grains, grasses, forage: 09 types, Vegetables: 26 types and Ornamentals: include 91 types. Burbank’s 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. 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 world’s predominant processing potato.

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