Luther Burbank was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts on March 8, 1849. Luther was the 13th of 15 children, and he loved the plants he discovered in his mother's large garden. Burbank's father died when he was 21 years old, and Burbank used his small inheritance to purchase a piece of land to breed plants.
Burbank used seeds from his best and most healthy plants to create superior varieties. Early in his plant-breeding career, Burbank produced a potato that was larger and whiter than previous varieties. It was named, you guessed it, the Burbank potato! In 1875, he sold the variety to a local seed man for travel fare to Santa Rosa, California. Burbank worked many odd jobs in order to stay in California and continue his experiments. In 1881, he grafted prune buds to almond seedlings and produced more than 20,000 trees in one year. By 1883, Burbank had purchased eight acres in Santa Rosa, and he was conducting thousands of experiments.
Burbank's experiments included line breeding, which created better plants by cultivating the best variety from each generation; grafting, which combined two plant varieties; and cross-pollination, which created new plants by mixing the pollen of two separate plants. However, Burbank's experiments were controversial. Some people felt that Burbank should not crossbreed plants because man should not have the power to create.
By 1885, Burbank had purchased a second farm in California. In 1893, he issued a 52-page catalog of his best plant varieties entitled "New Creations in Fruits and Flowers." In 1905, Burbank was awarded a grant by the Carnegie Institute, but it was canceled because he would not spend time keeping records.
During his career, Burbank produced more than 800 new plant strains and varieties, which included more than 50 varieties of lilies and 113 varieties of plums and prunes. More than 20 of these plants are commercially important to this date. Burbank died in Santa Rosa, California on April 11, 1926.
Want to learn more?