The Agricultural Innovations of Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank in his garden of hybrid Shasta daisies that he developed. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

American horticulturist Luther Burbank was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts on March 7, 1849. Despite receiving only an elementary education, Burbank developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including 113 varieties of plums and prunes, 10 varieties of berries, 50 varieties of lilies, and the Freestone peach.

Luther Burbank & Potato History

Wanting to improve the common Irish potato, Luther Burbank grew and observed twenty-three potato seedlings from an Early Rose parent.

One seedling produced two to three times more tubers of a larger size than any other. His potato was introduced in Ireland to combat the blight epidemic. Burbank cultivated the strain and marketed the Burbank (named after the inventor) potato to farmers in the U.S. in 1871. It was later nicknamed the Idaho potato.

Burbank sold the rights to the potato for $150, enough to travel to Santa Rosa, California. There he established a nursery, greenhouse, and experimental farm that have become famous throughout the world.

Famous Fruits & Veggies

Besides the famed Idaho potato, Luther Burbank was also behind the cultivation of: the Shasta daisy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, Royal walnuts, Rutland plumcots, Robusta strawberries, Elephant garlic, and many more delectables.

Plant Patents

New plants were not considered a patentable invention until 1930. Consequently, Luther Burbank received his plant patents posthumously.

Luther Burbank's own book, "How Plants Are Treated to Work for Man" written in 1921 influenced the establishment of the Plant Patent Act of 1930. Luther Burbank was granted Plant Patents #12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 41, 65, 66, 235, 266, 267, 269, 290, 291, and 1041.

Burbank's Legacy

He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986.

In California, his birthday is celebrated as Arbor Day and trees are planted in his memory. Had Burbank lived fifty years earlier, there can be small doubt that he would universally be regarded as the father of American horticulture.