GUEST OPINION: The case for Luther Burbank in Hall of Fame

  • Rose Carnival, May 10-13, 1917 (Luther Burbank in back seat, second from left)

    R. Walter

    [Rose festival parade]

Luther Burbank was many things, an American botanist, horticulturist and agricultural pioneer. One thing he has yet to be is a member of the California Hall of Fame.

The California Museum, along with former California First Lady Maria Shriver, created the Hall of Fame in 2006 to recognize individuals who have influenced the state, the nation and the world.

California Hall of Fame inductees come from all walks of life and embody California's spirit of innovation. Twelve or more remarkable individuals have been inducted each year since 2006, including Ansel Adams, Cesar Chavez, Walt Disney, Willie Mays, Ronald Reagan, Barbra Streisand and Alice Waters. Not one, however, has been a major figure from agriculture or horticulture.

Every year a selection committee diligently reviews suggestions for California Hall of Fame nominees. That committee, which includes representatives from the California Museum, the California Arts Council, and the offices of the governor and first lady, works from established selection criteria to identify nominations.

According to the Hall of Fame's web site, the selection criteria requires that inductees have "transcended the boundaries of their fields to make lasting contributions to the state, nation and world and that their extraordinary vision motivates and inspires people to further their own dreams."

Earlier this year, I nominated Luther Burbank, who was born in Massachusetts in 1849 but spent the vast majority of his life in Northern California.

Over the course of several decades, Burbank was credited with developing more than 800 strains and varieties of fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables — including the Shasta daisy, the Fire poppy, the Santa Rosa plum and the Freestone peach. A natural genetic variant of the Burbank potato with russet-colored skin later became known as the Russet Burbank potato, now the world's predominant potato for food processing.

In Santa Rosa, Burbank purchased a 4-acre plot of land and established a greenhouse, nursery and experimental fields that he used to conduct crossbreeding experiments on plants. The site is now a city park, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens.

Burbank died in 1926. Not long before his death, as part of a speech he gave in San Francisco, Burbank said, "<NO1>I love humanity, which has been a constant delight to me during all my 77<NO><NO1> years of life; and I love flowers, trees, animals, and all the works of n<NO><NO1>ature as they pass before us in time and space. <NO>What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with nature, helping her to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food."

Burbank's work spurred the passing of the 1930 Plant Patent Act, which made it possible to patent many new varieties of plants. In supporting the legislation, Thomas Edison testified before Congress and said that "This (bill) will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks."

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