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The Life of Luther Burbank

Many of the stone fruit varieties we see each season were developed by Luther Bank, a world-renowned horticulturist from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Luther Burbank moved to Santa Rosa in 1875 from Lancaster, Massachusetts.  He spent over 50 years of his life developing new varieties of fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts and grains.  His experiments changed plant breeding into a modern science.

The beautiful and free Luther Burbank Home & Gardens are located in Santa Rosa, California.  The delicious Santa Rosa plum was introduced in 1906 and named after the city where Burbank spent most of his life. Other popular plum varieties still grown today are the Elephant Heart and Burbank.

Santa Rosa Plum courtesy of the Luther Burbank garden

Santa Rosa Plum courtesy of the Luther Burbank garden

Burbank experimented with cross pollinating from thousands of plants. Out of the over 800 plants that Luther Burbank introduced, 100 of them were plums, prunes and the unusual plumcot. Burbank was the first person to successfully cross a plum and an apricot resulting in a plumcot, a 50/50 cross between plums and apricots. Burbank thought that if a plum could have the protective fuzz of an apricot the fruit would not bruise as easy. Apricots have delicate blossoms that are easily damaged by late frosts and Burbank thought that the plumcots would benefit from the fact that plums are late flowering fruits. Over the years Burbank developed 15 different plumcot varieties of various shapes, sizes, coloration and flavor. Unfortunately they were hard to grow and had a bad reputation.

Luther Burbank Gardens in Santa Rosa, CA. Lena Bengstton in the flower garden.

Luther Burbank Gardens in Santa Rosa, CA. Lena Bengstton in the flower garden.

Today we celebrate Burbanks birthday as Arbor day on March 7th by planting trees in his memory. We can thank Burbank for his tireless research which has lead other plant breeders to develop new stone fruit varieties such as the pluot and aprium.

Lloyd Zaiger took Burbank’s research one step further and developed the pluot by crossing his own plum/apricot hybrids with plums. The result was a fruit that is about 75% plum and about 25% apricot. The Dapple Dandy is one of the most popular pluot varieties and is on special this week at Earl’s.

There is no hard and fast rule on how to know when stone fruit is ripe and ready to eat.  This applies to all stone fruit whether it is a plum, apricot, peach or nectarine. The difference from one day to the next can be the difference between ripe and overripe. The best advice we at Earl’s can give is to try eating your fruit on different days and experiment by trial and error.  Store the pieces of stone fruit you plan to eat within a few days on a natural cotton cloth to allow the air to circulate and to prevent bruising. In very warm weather the fruit will ripen more quickly so be sure to check your fruit each day.

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