Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, Their Practical Application

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Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, Their Practical Application is one of the first sets of books published using color photography and is the most-extensive publication of the work of Luther Burbank (1849–1926).

Four bindings of the 12-volume set.

Luther Burbank history[edit]

Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries is a twelve-volume set published by the Luther Burbank Press in 1914 and 1915. The set was sold by subscription.

Each volume has 105 color photographs tipped in, for a total of 1260 photographs. The photos provide an extensive record of Burbank’s work in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol from 1875 to 1914.

The books apparently had at least six writers including Oscan Binner, Edward J. Wickson and Henry Smith Williams, M.D., LL.D.[1] George Shull reported that “considerable sections are most word for word the same as my manuscript.” Further, Shull found the text wanting: "It appears to me a criminal waste of good paper... The colored plates will prove both interesting and valuable."[2]


Sold by subscription, three quality levels of binding were offered: simple cloth, embossed cloth and leather.

The simple-cloth-bound edition was offered in multiple colors: red, blue, green and gold. Each volume has a black & white photo of Burbank inserted in the front of each cover. The books sold for $180 per set, “when $180 represented the earnings of two months’ work or longer.” [3]

In the same format as the simple-cloth-bound edition, a suede leather version was offered. The leather was light in weight and not nearly as sturdy as the full leather editions, below.

The embossed-cloth edition has a cherry design.

The leather-bound edition has a two-tree design with tall trees in panels separated by a blank panel on the front covers. The first volume is endorsed to its buyer and has an original signature of Luther Burbank.

An unusual leather-bound edition with a path scene with stone posts, a gate and trees on along the paths the covers was used for presentation purposes. These sets do not have the Luther Burbank signature.

Another unusual leather-bound edition has a grape vine with grapes on a T-trellis on the covers. These have very heavy (wood?) boards.

Special paper was prepared for the volumes which was watermarked “The Luther Burbank Press.”

Color photography[edit]

Number 8 of 9 photographs explaining how color photography works.

The volumes are one of the first uses of color photography and color printing. Since a nationwide search failed to find suitable color printing technology, The Luther Burbank Press set up a photo-chemical laboratory using the process of Lumiere of Paris.[4] The last volume has a section which describes how color photography and color printing is accomplished.


The twelve volumes are

Volume I (1914)

I. How the Cactus Got Its Spines – And How It Lost Them

II. Twenty-three Potato Seeds – And What They Taught

III. No Two Living Things Exactly Alike

IV. The Rivalry of Plants To Please Us

V. Let Us Now Produce a New Pink Daisy

VI. Short-Cuts Into Centuries to Come

VII. How Far Can Plant Improvement Go?

VIII. Some Plants Which Are Begging for Immediate Improvement

IX. Piecing the Fragments of a Motion Picture Film

Volume II (1914)

I. The Shasta Daisy

II. The White Blackberry

III. The Scented Calla

IV. The Stoneless Plum

V. The Royal Walnut

VI. The Winter Rhubarb

VII. The Burbank Cherry

VIII. The Sugar Prune

IX. Some Interesting Failures

Volume III (1914)

I. Planning A New Plant

II. Plant Affinities

III. Practical Pollination

IV. Quantity Production

V. Grafting and Budding

VI. Letting the Bees Do Their Work

VII. Fixing Good Traits

VIII. Recording the Experiments

IX. Final Selection

Volume IV (1914)

I. Quick Possibilities in Fruit Improvement

II. Practical Orchard Plans and Methods

III. Doubling the Productiveness of the Cherry

IV. The Responsiveness of the Pear

V. Fuzzy Peaches and Smooth-Skinned Nectarines

VI. The Apple – A Fruit Worthy of Still Further Improvement

VII. The Transformation of the Quince

VIII. The Apricot and the Loquat

IX. Citrus Fruits – And Fruits From the Tropics

Volume V (1914)

I. How the Plum Followed the Potato

II. Four Burbank Plums, and How They Were Made

III. The Greatest Plum of All – The Prune

IV. Four Burbank Prunes, and The Work Behind Them

V. Plums and Prunes Without Stones and Seeds

VI. Planning and Ideal Plum or Prune

VII. New Plums and Prunes in The Process of Making

VIII. What the Burbank Plums and Prunes Have Earned

IX. Accomplishing the Impossible – The Plumcot

Volume VI (1914)

I. The Thornless Blackberry – And Others

II. The Raspberry and Some Odd Crosses

III. Designing a Strawberry to Bear the Year Around

IV. The Sunberry – A Production from the Wild

V. A Dozen Other Delightful Berries

VI. Great Opportunities In the Grape

VII. The Cactus Pear – A Profitable Fruit

VIII. Some Inedible Fruits Which May Be Transformed

IX. The Need for Improving Small Fruits

Volume VII (1914)

I. How to Get the Most Out of the Garden

II. Some Common Garden Plants and Their Improvement

III. Peas and Beans as Money Crops

IV. The Tomato – and an Interesting Experiment

V. Pink Chives – and Other Foods for Flavor

VI. Artichokes – and Some Garden Specialties

VII. Winter Rhubarb – and Other Interesting Exotics

VIII. The Camassia – Will it Supplant the Potato?

IX. The Potato Itself – Who Will Improve It Further?

Volume VIII (1914)

I. Corn – The King of America’s Crops

II. Getting the Most Out of the Small Grains

III. Manufacturing Food for the Live Stock

IV. A Rich Field for Work on the Textile Plants

V. Plants Which Yield Useful Chemical Substances

VI. Reclaiming the Deserts with Cactus

VII. Rival of Alfalfa

VIII. Many Useful Substances in Cactus

IX. Other Useful Plants Which Will Repay Experiment

Volume IX (1914)

I. What to Work for in Flowers

II. Working With a Universal Flower – The Rose

III. Accomplishing the Impossible With the Amaryllis

IV. Bringing Forth an Entirely New Color

V. A Daisy Which Rivals the Chrysanthemum

VI. Making the Gladiolus Surpass Itself

VII. Experiminting With the Responsive Dahlia

VIII. The Canna and the Calia

IX. The Purest White in Nature

Volume X (1915)

I. Getting the Utmost Variation Out of A Flower

II. Improvement in the Much Improved Iris

III. The Tigridia and Some Interesting Hybrids

IV. Four Common Dooryard Flowers – And Their Improvements

V. The Everlasting Flower, and Some Common Exotica

VI. The Hybrid Larkspur – and Other Transformations

VII. Ornamental Palms and Climbing Vines

VIII. Laws and Their Beautification

IX. Field and Flower Garden

Volume XI (1915)

I. Nuts as a Profitable Crop

II. The Paper Shell, and Other Walnuts

III. The Almond – and Its Improvement

IV. The Chestnut – Bearing Nuts at Six Months

V. The Hickory Nut, and Other Nuts

VI. The On Growing Trees for Lumber

VII. The Production of a Quick-growing Walnut

VIII. Trees Whose Products are Useful Substances

IX. Trees and Shrubs for Shade and Ornamentals

Volume XII (1915)

I. Luther Burbank – His Boyhood on a Massachusetts Farm

II. Luther Burbank – The Early Years in Santa Rosa

III. Luther Burbank – His Patience Rewarded

IV. Luther Burbank – The Sum of His Work With Plant Life

V. Luther Burbank – The Bearing of His Work on Human Life

VI. The Luther Burbank Society

(includes Color Photography Explained)

How Plants are Trained to Work for Man[edit]

How Plants are Trained to Work for Man by Luther Burbank, Sc.D published in 1921 is clearly a rework of the 1914–1915 work.

The 1921 publication is in eight volumes in a single binding. Each volume contains 49 photographs printed on separate pages, not the tipped-in photos of the original.

Despite Burbank's claim that, "these eight volumes are not a compilation from the works or words of others,",[5] the books cite the copyrights from 1914 and 1915 from the Luther Burbank Company.[6]

All but two of the photographs in the 1921 volumes came from the 1914–1915 volumes.[7] Generally, photographs in the first volumes of the early set are found in the first volumes of the later set, with this trend continuing to the last volumes.[8]

The "Sc.D" is from the honorary doctor of science degree awarded Burbank by Tufts University in 1905.


  1. ^ Smith, Jane S. (2009). The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants. The Penguin Press. pp. 214–216. 
  2. ^ Dreyer, Peter (1985). A Gardner Touched with Genius – The Life of Luther Burbank. University of California Press. pp. 194–195. 
  3. ^ Kraft, Ken; Kraft, Pat (1967). Luther Burbank – The Wizard and the Man. Meredith Press. p. 187. 
  4. ^ Burbank, Luther (1915). Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, Their Practical Application XII. Luther Burbank Press. p. 272. 
  5. ^ Burbank, Luther (1921). How Plants are Trained to Work for Man I. P. F. Collier & Son Company. p. 17. 
  6. ^ Burbank, Luther (1921). How Plants are Trained to Work for Man I. P. F. Collier & Son Company. 
  7. ^ One new photograph is of Luther Burbank and the other is of Mrs. Luther Burbank who was not married to Luther Burbank at the time of the 1914–1915 volumes.
  8. ^ Von der Porten, Michael. "An Evaluation of Luther Burbank's 1914–1915 and 1921 Books". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 

External links[edit]

  • University of Wisconsin Digital Collection [1]
  • Online - Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries [2]
  • Online - How Plants are Trained to Work for Man [3]