Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Luther Burbank and the Business of Biology

July 23, 2020

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Luther Burbank at His Desk, 1915
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Luther Burbank overcame nature’s limitations to create more than 800 plants the world had never seen. 

Burbank experimented with plant reproduction to change the traits of plants. He considered himself a student in “Nature's school” and a lifelong learner. Through the power of observation, Burbank overcame the limits of nature to create new varieties of plants.

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Luther Burbank’s plant hybridization experiments led him to develop a plumcot: a cross between the plum and the apricot. THF275310

Luther Burbank used methods like selective breeding, cross-pollination, and hybridization in his experiments. In one famous example, he crossed a plum and an apricot to create a brand-new fruit: the plumcot. In another, he created a cactus with no spikes!

Burbank’s plant creations brought him fame. He amazed more formally trained scientists, and crowds of people showed up at his experimental gardens. The media described Burbank as a “plant wizard,” but he rejected that label. He argued that anyone could do what he did.

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An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Luther Burbank, Rachel Carson, and George Washington Carver.

Learn more about Burbank’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores

  • Grafting – a technique Burbank used to clone fruit varieties
  • The process of creating the famous Russet Burbank potato
  • Tools used by Luther Burbank in his work
  • Burbank’s work tracing the origins of corn to an ancient wild grass
  • Popular Burbank plant creations still sold today

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