Burbank, Luther

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

Burbank, Luther

Burbank, Luther (bûrˈbănk), 1849–1926, American plant breeder, b. Lancaster, Mass. He experimented with thousands of plant varieties and developed many new ones, including new varieties of prunes, plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, and nectarines. Besides the Burbank potato, he produced new tomato, corn, squash, pea, and asparagus forms; a spineless cactus useful in cattle feeding; and many new flowers, especially lilies and the famous Shasta daisy. His methods and results are described in his books—How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man (8 vol., 1921) and, with Wilbur Hall, Harvest of the Years (1927) and Partner of Nature (1939)—and in his descriptive catalogs, New Creations. After 1875 his work was done at Santa Rosa, Calif.


See D. S. Jordan and V. Kellogg, The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank's Work (1909); E. B. Beeson, The Early Life and Letters of Luther Burbank (1927); W. L. Howard, Luther Burbank (1945); K. Kraft, Luther Burbank (1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Burbank, Luther


Born July 3, 1849, in Lancaster, Massachusetts; died Nov. 4, 1926, in Santa Rosa, California. American selectionist and Darwinist; self-taught scientist who developed many new varieties of fruit, vegetable, field, and ornamental crops.

Burbank was born into the family of a farmer. He established a fruit and ornamental nursery in Santa Rosa in 1875 and later, in nearby Sebastopol. He worked there until his death. From seeds obtained from free pollination and intervarietal, interspecific, and intergeneric hybridization, Burbank developed a stoneless plum, a plumcot (a cross between the plum and the apricot), a thornless cactus that provides delicious fruits and valuable cattle fodder, an edible dwarf chestnut that bears fruit in its second year, a walnut with a paper-thin shell, a quince with a pineapple odor, a white blackberry, a thornless blackberry, a sweet onion with bulbs weighing more than 1 kg, a fragrant dahlia, a blue poppy, and a species of Amaryllis with flowers as large as 30 cm in diameter. Burbank achieved his greatest successes in work with plums, developing 113 varieties of this crop. The best of these are the Santa Rosa, Wickson, Burbank, America, Beauty, Black Sugar, Climax, Duarte, and Shiro plums. Many of these plums are cultivated in Argentina, North Africa, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as in the USA.

Leading scientists recognized Burbank as a talented representative of creative Darwinism. K. A. Timeriazev called him a “miracle worker” and ranked him among the top scientists and selectionists. I. V. Michurin regarded his California colleague highly and described him as “not a copier nor an epigone, but one who worked according to his own original methods of improvement.. .. His single profound study of the laws of plant life enabled him to improve and increase the varieties of fruit plants” (Soch., vol. 4, 1948, p. 422).

Since he received no support from the government, Burbank was in constant need of funds and was unable to apply his talents fully. His work was not adequately pursued in America. Many varieties developed by Burbank have been lost or forgotten.


In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch. Moscow, 1955.


Timiriazev, K. A. “Dva dara nauki.” Soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1939.
Garvud, A. Obnovlennaia zemlia, ν sokrashch. Izlozhenii K. A. Timiriazeva. Moscow, 1919.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Burbank, Luther

(1849–1926) plant breeder, horticulturist; born in Lancaster, Mass. The 13th child of a farmer, he grew up interested in nature, and although he had little formal science education, he was influenced by the ideas of Charles Darwin. Turning to farming to support his widowed mother, by 1870 he was experimenting with improving the varieties of vegetables; his first success was a potato that grew in the stony Massachusetts soil; he sold the rights to it for $150 (to a seed dealer who named it the Burbank). In 1875 he went off to Santa Rosa, Calif., where he began what proved to be a prosperous nursery business; he sold it in 1893 to concentrate on his own experimental farm at nearby Sebastopol. Over the years—by selecting the most desirable specimens or by hybridizing and grafting two or more plants—he developed hundreds of new varieties of vegetables, fruit, and ornamental plants, including the Shasta daisy. He published many catalogues of his plants as well as the multivolume Luther Burbank, His Methods and Discoveries (1914–15) and How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man (1921). Although he was not truly a scientist and most of his new varieties no longer have commercial value, he remains something of an American legend as a self-taught "tinkerer with nature."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
Mentioned in ?