by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser
Our Paul Evans Library of Fruit Science has received a wonderful gift of horticultural history – a complete 12-volume set of the Luther Burbank journals, edited by his staff. Jane and Andy Elder of Gainesville, Missouri donated the books to the Paul Evans Library of Fruit Science in memory of Elizabeth Waterbury Elder. Elizabeth, Andy’s mom, studied botany at the New Jersey College for Women (associated with Rutgers University) where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1938. She went on to earn a master’s degree in botany from Columbia University in 1940.
Andy Elder notes that, “These Burbank books are unique in that they have a printed dedication page to John Bister as Honorary Member of the Luther Burbank Society signed by the secretary of the society. Dr. Bister was Elizabeth’s favorite professor at the New Jersey College for Women, and he re-dedicated the set to her on June 4, 1935 as a graduation gift. At the time these volumes were printed the color plates were quite an innovation.”
Luther Burbank was born in Lancaster, Mass., March 7, 1849. Having only an elementary education, Burbank developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants including the Burbank potato, the Shasta daisy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, Royal walnuts, Rutland plumcots, Robusta strawberries and elephant garlic. Burbank also developed an improved spineless cactus which could provide forage for livestock in desert regions. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986.
One of Burbank’s goals was to increase the world’s food supply by genetically manipulating the characteristics of plants. Burbank developed the large Burbank Potato in Massachusetts in the early 1870s and marketed it to U. S. farmers in 1871. He sold the rights to his potato, nicknamed the Idaho potato, for $150 which was enough money for him to move to Santa Rosa, Calif. There he established a nursery, greenhouse and experimental farm. The Russet Burbank, developed from the original release, is still the leading potato grown in America today. It is used in McDonald’s famous French fries. Gold Ridge, Luther Burbank’s experimental farm, is registered as an historic landmark and is open to the public.
Jane Elder mentioned that, “We are so happy these books have found a good home (at the Paul Evans Library). Betty was an extraordinary woman and instilled the love of the natural world, especially plants, in her children. She left a wonderful legacy to us that we have appreciated over the years.” You can definitely get a sense of the great love and interest Luther Burbank had for plants and their improvement to better our lives. If you are interested in having a look at them, visit Pamela Mayer, caretaker of the Paul Evans Library of Fruit Science. You can contact Pam at PMayer@missouristate.edu
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.