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Early Life:

Luther Burbank(1849-1926) was a well known botanist, and an agronomist who lived, during much of the  nineteenth as well as the the first two decades of the twentieth century. Born into a farming family in Lancaster(Massachusetts),USA in March 1849, he grew up mostly on his family farm. From his early childhood he seemed to have a natural love and affinity towards plants and the science of botany. He received only an elementary school education, but this did not prove to be a handicap in  his lifelong quest for improving the quality of plants spanning an entire gamut of botanical varieties as well as close to more than six decades of research and development activity.

The Potato Story:

Burbank's early agronomic experiments commenced on a 17 acre plot which he inherited from his family in his native Massachusetts. He tried to improve upon the common Irish potato which had then been affected by the blight disease in Ireland ,and had caused the entire crop to be ruined and causing a massive famine. He chose an existing cultivar known as the Early Rose. He took twenty three seedlings and planted them side by side, this was a cultivar of potato which never produced a replica of itself. Great care had to be taken to nurture the seedlings and the young plants but the effort was worth it all. Twenty three new varieties had been created out of which two which contained maximum number of tubers were chosen, one of which was to be christened as Burbank Potato. Its white fleshy interior and brown skin made it the most innovative cultivar of its time and helped the Irish farmers to overcome their blight problems. Burbank became a celebrity agronomist and horticulturist. This is the most widely cultivated potato and forms bulk of the production in North America and Europe to this day.

His Other Achievements:

In 1875, Burbank sold off his farm and his rights to the Burbank potato to a farmer(Plant patents were not officially allowed in the United States until 1930) and migrated to California and settled down in Santa Rosa, where he set up a greenhouse, nursery and an experimental farm and worked for the next fifty years untill the end of his life. He developed more than 800 varieties of cultivars in almost all classes such as grains, grasses, forage, vegetables, fruits and flowers through more than 4000 experiments.

Methodology and Techniques:

The methods used by Burbank were classical breeding methods, but laid the foundation for more technologically advanced methods based on molecular biology and genetic engineering which were to arrive decades after him. He used manual techniques such as grafting ,cross breeding and hybridization to obtain the best variety of cultivable plants. He adopted a system which can be outlined in a sequential format:

  • Planning a new plant
  • Assessing plant affinities
  • Practical Pollenation
  • Quantity Production- care of seedlings etc
  • Grafting and Budding
  • Natural Pollenation with the help of bees
  • Fixing good traits
  • Recording the experiments
  • Final selection

Many scientists of his day did not approve of his methods and termed them as unscientific. The critics went so far as to say that he was unaware of  Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection as well as Gregor Mendel's early work on plant genetics. He was denounced for not maintaining proper records of his research work as is the required practice in all scientific research and inclined to obtain results without a thought for basic research. Criticism and barbs aside ,this man left behind indelible imprints of his work for all to see through successive ages. Despite being typecast as a quack by the scientific fraternity, the wealth of his achievements can never be underestimated, he has enriched the world of botany, horticulture and agronomy for all time to come. In 1986 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame



  • New Creations in Fruits and Flowers(1893)
  • The Training of the Human Plant(1907)
  • Luther Burbank: His Methods, Discoveries and their Practical Applications(1914)
  • How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man(1921)


Luther Burbank died in April, 1926 of gastrointestinal ailments at his home in Santa Rosa.





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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.