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Luther Burbank's spineless cactus: boom times in the California desert.


Here's a way to end world hunger and make the desert bloom: take the common prickly pear cactus that grows wild throughout the Southwest, use hybridization and selection to "persuade" it to relinquish its sharp spines, plant the improved version across the arid regions of the world, and open up the range to grazing cattle.

That was the plan of Luther Burbank, California's most celebrated plant breeder in the early years of the twentieth century, and it captured the imagination--and the dollars--of a surprising number of people the world over. From 1905 to 1916, Burbank's spineless cactus was the center of an agricultural bubble held aloft by the combined winds of genuine need, popular science, the eternal pursuit of quick profits, and, most of all, the extraordinary fame of Burbank himself.

The story of the spineless cactus craze is a tragicomedy in several acts, with many prickly repercussions, but at the turn of the last century it was hardly an isolated example of California's pursuit of new and better crops. From grapes and olives in the Napa Valley to cotton in Kern County and dates in Indio, California was being transformed by agricultural innovation. All over the state, optimistic growers were busy draining, irrigating, terracing, tilling, and doing whatever else seemed necessary to transform the largely uncultivated Pacific paradise into a functioning commercial garden.

Burbank's spineless cactus plan never quite worked, as either cattle feed or instant riches, and its decade-long burst of promotion, cultivation, speculation, and exploitation is now almost lost in the crowded annals of financial miscalculation. Specimens still grow in many parts of California, often as unnamed components of the home garden, but both the man and his contribution to desert agriculture have faded from popular memory. (1) Like the eucalyptus tree, widely promoted during the same period as a fast-growing source of timber and now tolerated as a fragrant fire hazard of little or no commercial value, the spineless cactus, with its aura of easy profits, is a reminder of the race to riches that has characterized California history from the Gold Rush to the bubbles of the late twentieth century.


Excitement about the spineless cactus--a thorn-free variety of the Opuntia--had been building for several years when Burbank launched his newest plant wonder on the open market with a special twenty-eight-page catalog, The New Agricultural-Horticultural Opuntias: Plant Creations for Arid Regions, on June 1, 1907. In the timeless tradition of nursery catalogs, the publication featured enticing descriptions, testimonial letters, and optimistic projects of potential yields, here combined with laboratory analyses of the cactus's nutritional value and clear photographic evidence of the product's existence. In part, the catalog's simplistic style seemed more appropriate for young readers. "Everybody knows that Baldwin apples, Bartlett pears and our favorite peaches, plums and cherries cannot be raised from seeds," Burbank wrote. "The same laws hold true with the improved Opuntias, but fortunately they can be raised from cuttings in any quantity with the utmost ease. More truly they raise themselves, for when broken from the parent plant, the cuttings attend to the rooting without further attention, whether planted right end up, bottom up, sideways or not at all." (2)

Such simplicity did not come cheap, however. The marvelous new cacti were well beyond the reach of child and almost every adult; the price for complete possession of one of Burbank's eight new varieties ranged from one to ten thousand dollars. The New Agricultural-Horticultural Opuntias was aimed at professional plant dealers who would buy the prototypes, multiply them on their own grounds, and sell the results to the retail trade. This was Burbank's preferred method for disseminating his work, and both his extraordinary products and his eye-popping prices ensured huge publicity for the new spineless cactus, as it had for his other introductions in the past.

By 1907, Burbank was already an international celebrity unique in the annals of plant breeding. As a young man, he had read Charles Darwin's Variations of Animals and Plants Under Domestication and had been inspired to seek out and foster the innate variability of all living things. While still in his early twenties and living in Massachusetts, he developed an admirably large, productive, tasty, blight-resistant potato. After exhibiting his new potato at agricultural fairs, Burbank sold the rights to a local seed merchant and used the profit--the grand sum of $150--to emigrate in 1875 to Santa Rosa, the small but booming town north of San Francisco where his younger brother Alfred lived.

Today, over a century later, the Burbank potato-usually seen in its russet-skinned variation and now known as the Idaho potato, the russet potato, or simply the baking potato--remains the most widely grown potato in the world. But for Burbank, it was only the beginning of his life's work in California: the development of at least eight hundred new varieties of agricultural and horticultural wonders for farm and garden. (3)

For more than thirty years since his arrival in Santa Rosa, Burbank had produced a steady stream of new products--fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, berries, trees, and grains. Catalogs advertising his "new creations," bred behind the picket fence of his large garden in Santa Rosa or at his experiment farm in nearby Sebastopol, were distributed to growers throughout California and the United States and to every continent except Antarctica.

Hybrid plums, giant cherries, freestone peaches, exotic lilies, the enormously popular Shasta daisy, and a winter rhubarb so profitable growers called it "the mortgage lifter" all helped to generate large commercial markets in a period of agricultural expansion that amounted to a second gold rush for Burbank's adopted state. For years, reporters and photographers hovered about his grounds, waiting for the latest report of this season's dazzling new improvements on the raw material of nature.

Burbank was lauded by growers, processors, and shippers for the new businesses built from his products, but he was even more celebrated for his almost magical ability to transform plants by removing what would seem to be their defining characteristic. Since publication of his first New Creations in Fruits and Flowers catalog in 1893, reporters had gleefully called him the Wizard of Santa Rosa, filling their columns with descriptions of paradoxical varieties like the white blackberry, the stoneless plum, the "everlasting" flower, a bright red version of the golden California poppy, and the Paradox walnut tree that provided valuable hardwood lumber but grew as fast as a pine or other soft wood.

In the context of these earlier triumphs, the spineless cactus was only the latest demonstration of Burbank's uncanny ability to bend nature to his will. In the words of Governor George C. Pardee, "Working quietly and modestly among his trees and vines, our friend Burbank has worked what, to our lay minds, appear almost like miracles. He has changed the characters and appearances of fruits and flowers, turned pigmies into giants, sweetened the bitter and the sour, transformed noxious weeds into valuable plants, and verily set the seal of his disapproval upon much that to him and us seems wrong in Nature's handiwork. For us he has done much; and to him the whole world is indebted." (4)

Governor Pardee, like California's commercial leaders, recognized how much Burbank had contributed to the state's highly profitable shift from fertile promise to actual production. In the search for a man of genius who could embody both the aspirations and achievements of California as the major supplier of the world's food, no single individual rivaled Luther Burbank, and no praise seemed too excessive.


To many of his admirers, Burbank's life was as appealing as his garden inventions. First there was his New England lineage, a fact that Burbank himself did not consider very important but which other people honored as a link to the nation's very beginnings. When Burbank was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1849, the family already had lived in New England for over two centuries and could claim a long line of teachers, clergymen, craftsmen, and manufacturers. At a time when Massachusetts dominated the cultural scene, such contemporary literary lions as Longfellow, Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau were familiar names in the house, and Emerson and Thoreau, along with Alexander von Humboldt, remained Burbank's favorite authors throughout his life.

Burbank's second appeal was that he had left New England. Luther was Samuel Burbank's thirteenth child by his third wife, and two older half brothers had joined the surge of migrants to California in the 1850s, settling in Marin County. A true child of the Gold Rush years, Luther grew up reading his brothers' letters about the wonders of their adopted state. That he followed them west made him a perfect representative of the transcontinental transfer of power and influence that has long been a point of pride for California boosters.

Finally, there was Burbank's status as a self-taught genius, always a form of popular hero. The Burbank brickyard in Lancaster had provided a comfortable living, but the family was far from rich. When Samuel's death ended Luther's studies at the Lancaster Academy and foreclosed any prospect of college, the fatherless young man escaped his factory job by going to the Lancaster Public Library, where he read natural history, including Darwin. Thirty years later, he was recognized as a practical inventor on a par with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, two other giants who had skipped the lecture hall to create the transformational products that formed the modern world. (5)

Despite the lack of any sort of advanced education in biology, botany, horticulture, or agriculture, Burbank won great respect from the expanding profession of science. Beginning in the late 1890s, there had been a rising tide of professional interest in his achievements from those working in both the laboratory and the field. Scientific groups invited him to deliver papers, and federal agents from the newly formed Agricultural Experiment Stations made pilgrimages to Santa Rosa to meet the master and observe his work. Hugo de Vries, the Dutch geneticist who was a celebrated leader in the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel and the inventor of the word "mutation," accepted an invitation to lecture at the University of California at Berkeley because, he admitted, he wanted to visit Burbank; afterward, he took back photographs and samples of Burbank products to use in his lectures in Europe. Liberty Hyde Bailey, the Cornell University professor widely regarded as the dean of American horticulture, also came to Berkeley largely because of its proximity to Santa Rosa; dazzled by the range of experiments he saw in Burbank's small garden in the middle of the city, he praised the self-educated plant breeder as "a painstaking, conscientious investigator of the best type." (6)

Local boosters were even more enthusiastic about Burbank's achievements. In 1903, the California Academy of Sciences celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by awarding Burbank a gold medal "for meritorious work in developing new forms of plant life," calling him the most important scientist of the past half century. (7) Edward Wickson, soon to be dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of California, declared that "Mr. Burbank's thought and work have passed beyond even the highest levels of horticulture, known as horticultural science, into the domain of science itself." (8) David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University and himself a noted biologist, appointed Burbank Special Lecturer on Evolution; Jordan later collaborated with Vernon Kellogg, professor of entomology at Stanford, on a series of articles known collectively as The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank's Work. (9) And in 1905, as though bestowing a special seal of scientific approval, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., granted Burbank the enormous sum of ten thousand dollars per year to support his experiments in plant evolution and hired a young geneticist, complete with the Ph.D. Burbank lacked, to record his methods.


By the time Burbank had introduced his spineless cactus, then, he was a star whose name and face were familiar around the world, a darling of the business community whose products and reputation elevated every phase of California commerce, and a plant "evoluter" (his own preferred rifle) whose abilities had been certified by leaders of academic science. And now he was offering a new crop from which a great many people hoped to make a lot of money.

In September 1907, three months after the New Opuntias catalog appeared, the National Irrigation Congress held its fifteenth annual meeting in Sacramento. As the main speaker, Luther Burbank repeated his prediction that the spineless cactus would solve the problem of what to feed livestock in the parched regions of the world. "Of course my first object was to get a thornless [cactus]," Burbank told the assembly. "Then next to get an individual which would produce a great weight of forage to the acre. That has been very well accomplished. I have now a cactus that will produce zoo tons of food per acre ... as safe to handle and as safe to feed as beets, potatoes, carrots or pumpkins." (10) Warning his listeners that much remained to be done, Burbank concluded his speech with a bit of boastful hyperbole that would become the gospel of his many promoters: "My object is to combine this great production with great nutrition. Then, my opinion is, the cactus will be the most important plant on earth for arid regions and I have not the least doubt of securing that." (11)

Other presenters addressed such important issues as grazing rights, timber sales in U.S. forests, federal support for irrigation programs, and the development of inland waterways, but it was Burbank's spineless cactus that received the most extensive coverage in the press. The Los Angeles Times, among many other papers, printed the Associated Press's report on the conference on its front page the following day under the headline "Wizard's Wisdom." Other reports noted that the cactus fruit, no longer a "prickly" pear, would now become a delectable treat on the family table. Already, Burbank's cautions that his spineless cactus was still a work in progress were forgotten under the dazzling prospect of succulent fruits and nourishing fodder newly available for painless consumption.

Indeed, miraculous crop introductions could and did happen. In 1873, Eliza Tibbets, a resident of the struggling three-year-old city of Riverside, California, received two bud stocks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "sports" that were derived from a seedless orange discovered in Bahia, Brazil. The fruit proved to be hearty, delicious, and conveniently free of seeds. The new navel orange, as it was called, did very well in southern California's dry climate and soon other growers were planting cuttings from the Tibbets tree. By 1880, local grower Thomas W. Cover had employed Chinese and Native American workers to bud seven hundred trees to navels; a few years later, profits from the Riverside navels had allowed the community to survive the 1888 collapse in land values (another frequent event in California history). By 1895, Riverside boasted the highest per capita income in the state. There was no reason at all to think that lightning couldn't strike twice.


Today, planting the desert with an experimental breed of spineless cactus seems a very complicated way to solve a not-too-pressing problem. Since the middle of the twentieth century, a combination of high-yield varieties and government subsidies has made corn so plentiful and inexpensive that it now supplies up to 40 percent of cattle feed in the United States. Grass-fed beef--like the analog clock, the acoustic guitar, or the gin martini--was a descriptive name coined after World War II to distinguish it from earlier products; today the term "corn-fed"--like digital, electric, or vodka--has become the new norm.

But a hundred years ago, things were different. In those days, cattle grazed, brought to pasture by ranchers during the summer months. As cattle ranches expanded into the deserts of the American West, where grass did not grow--and into the arid stretches of South America, Spain, India, New Zealand, and Africa--the question of what the animals would eat loomed large.


Burbank was not by any means the first person to look to the Opuntia for food or profit. In Mexico, prickly pears (tunas) and paddles (nopules) had been eaten long before the Spanish conquest, and the cactus plant had been cultivated for just as long as a host for the cochineal insect, a parasite that provided a valuable red dye. The prickly pear cactus also was used as emergency livestock feed in the desert, though it required a laborious process of singeing or rubbing with abrasives to remove the spines that would otherwise injure or even kill cattle. During the drought year of 1903-4, ranchers had turned to modern gasoline torches to burn off the spines, and the USDA had conducted extensive analyses of the nutritional content of the cactus paddles. What was missing was a way to make the process easy, attractive, and profitable. That was where the wizard hybridizer came in, at least according to the many people who regarded Burbank as a foolproof source of lucrative products.

The research had been going on for years. When Burbank first arrived in California, he was entranced by the many local varieties of cactus, some of which grew very large, and particularly by the Opuntia, which has edible fruit and is relatively tolerant of cold. He began working with the pricey pears in earnest around 1892, following his usual method: massive hybridization, the ruthless selection from thousands of specimens of a few promising seedlings, and repetition of the process over multiple generations.

The first step of Burbank's experiment was to amass a large collection of cacti, primarily Opuntia. Working with professional plant hunters and building on his worldwide fame, he imported specimens from all over California; from states as unlikely as Maine and as close as Arizona; and from Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Sicily, South Africa, Mexico, South America, and Central America. Admirers, knowledgeable about Burbank's interest in cacti from the vast number of newspaper accounts that spread his fame, sent additional specimens.

The federal government also supported his efforts. David Fairchild, who worked for the USDA in a position with the wonderful tire of Plant Explorer, arranged for Burbank to receive samples from Italy, France, and North Africa, several of which became direct ancestors of Burbank varieties. The USDA greenhouse in Washington, D.C., provided other specimens. The city of San Diego offered a section of the city park as an Agricultural Experiment Station for the spine less cactus, (12) and cactus experiment stations were established in Chico, California, and in San Antonio, Texas, among other locations.

Burbank, meanwhile, rented land in Livermore, Alameda County, as his own experimental ground, and contracted with ranchers in other regions both to test the viability of different breeds and to grow the quantities of spineless cactus he would need if he were to have enough to market. He also sent samples to the head of the University of California's Department of Nutrition and Foods at Berkeley, who tested them and declared them "to have nutritive powers three-fourths of alfalfa." (13)


The first sales of spineless cactus were to dealers who planned to take them overseas to propagate for foreign markets. John Rutland, a nurseryman from Australia who had moved to Sebastopol to be closer to Burbank's work, bought the first slabs of spineless cactus in 1905, a transaction Burbank publicized by telling reporters he had made enough on the sale to pay for a new house in Santa Rosa. (14)

Accounts of the new desert crop began to appear in popular magazines and books, making exaggerated promises that Burbank claimed forced him to issue a catalog that would at least be an accurate description of what was available. William S. Harwood, a prolific though highly unreliable reporter who had already written several ecstatic articles about Burbank when he published New Creations in Plant Life in 1905, (15) greatly exaggerated all the marvels of Burbank's work. In April of the same year, The World Today published "The Spineless Cactus: The Latest Plant Marvel Originated by Luther Burbank," by Hamilton Wright, who was identified as secretary of the California Promotion Committee.

Wright was paid to boost California's reputation as a source of spectacular new products. A less partisan reporter, George Wharton James, also succumbed to the excitement of the spineless cactus in his 1906 paean to the beauty and romance of the Southwest, The Wonders of the Colorado Desert (Southern California). Describing the desperate efforts to rescue livestock during recent drought years by feeding them cactus paddles from which the injurious spines had been burned, James was relieved to report: "Luther Burbank, the wizard of plant life, has solved the spine problem without singeing. He has developed a species of spineless cactus which has high nutritive and water value. This cactus will undoubtedly, in time, be planted in large areas of the Colorado and other deserts and thus aid cattle, if not man, in solving that most difficult of desert problems,--the permanent and well-distributed supply of water in the driest areas." (16)

The plant that would rescue cattle also provided fodder for little minds. Excerpts from "The Spineless Cactus: The Latest Wonder from Luther Burbank" appeared in the Texas School Journal in 1905--the same year Burbank's own "The Training of the Human Plant" appeared in Century magazine, bringing his theories of education to a wide audience. (17) By December 1907, three months after his appearance at the National Irrigation Conference, Burbank seemed a natural choice to speak at the Southern California Teachers' Association meeting in Los Angeles, where he once again described his work with the spineless cactus.

As Burbank was careful to note in his catalogs and many speeches, cactus is a slow-growing plant and his best varieties were still under development. Apart from the early sales to Rutland, what he offered was a promise--for future delivery, future profits, and future salvation of the starving peoples of the world. Marketing was not something that interested Burbank, and he wasn't very good at it. Whenever possible, he licensed or sold his plant prototypes to large, well-established companies like Burpee Seeds in Pennsylvania, Stark Bro's Nurseries in Missouri, or Child's Nurseries, whose establishment was so large it became the city of Floral Park, New York.

The spineless cactus had little appeal for northern or eastern dealers, but a number of Californians were eager to relieve Burbank of the burden of taking his promising new product to the retail level. The first of these entrepreneurs was Charles Jay Welch, a well-established rancher in Merced County. Sometime in 1907, before Burbank issued his New Opuntias catalog, Welch had formed the Thornless Cactus Farming Company in Los Angeles with several partners and paid Burbank twenty-seven thousand dollars for the right to grow and market seven varieties of his new cactus, the biggest single sale Burbank would ever make.

By spring 1908, Welch boasted the production of 1,000 new plants each week at Copa de Oro, his cactus farm in the Coachella Valley. (18) Later that summer, he advertised that "Burbank's Thornless Cactus will produce as high as 200 or 300 tons of rich, succulent fodder to the acre. Burbank's Improved Fruiting Varieties (for Semi-Thornless) Cactus will produce as much as 100 tons of delicious fruit to the acre.... The Burbank Cactus has just started its first distribution of these wonderful plants. Hundreds of people cheerfully paid their money for plants two years ago and waited till June, 1909, for delivery." The Thornless Cactus Farming Company asserted that it had taken requests for 50,000 starter slabs of spineless cactus from customers around the world, before a single plant had been shipped. Customers ordering now, however, would receive theirs at once. (19)

The prospect of all these far-flung buyers--and the even more enticing vision of ongoing trade in both cactus paddles as cattle feed and cactus fruit as a grocery item--caught the attention of shipping companies. Railroads wanted new crops that would appeal to distant markets, and many carriers already had profited handsomely from Burbank's earlier introductions. From potatoes to prunes, Burbank products were a significant part of the tons of specialty crops that filled cars heading east from California. (20) Hoping to be both producer and shipper, the Southern Pacific Railroad worked from 1908 to 1912 to bring value to its barren acreage in southern California and the Great Basin by growing Burbank's spineless cactus. (21) During the same period, the Union Pacific Railroad sponsored promotions of Burbank products around the country, with particular emphasis on the spineless cactus. (22)

Meanwhile, Burbank had new varieties ready for production. Apparently dissatisfied with his contract with the Thornless Cactus Farming Company, which was having trouble meeting scheduled payments, in February 1909 he began negotiating with Herbert and Hartland Law, who had made a good deal of money in the patent medicine business and were the current owners of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. The Law brothers established Luther Burbank Products, Incorporated, to market all of Burbank's creations, including the spineless cactus, but at the last minute the man whose name and fame were vital to the operation got cold feet and pulled out of the agreement. For the time being, Burbank would continue to sell spineless cactus through his own catalogs and the Thornless Cactus Farming Company.


While trying to find someone else to handle the sales of his spineless cactus, Burbank entered into a separate agreement to market himself through the publication of a multivolume work that would provide practical information to budding farmers and gardeners. The numerous efforts to write about Luther Burbank are too vast and complicated to be described here, but the spineless cactus also figured prominently in efforts to sell books. (23)

Starting in 1911, potential subscribers around the country received elaborate brochures from a new organization, the Luther Burbank Publishing Company, which would soon form a Luther Burbank Society of subscribers and supporters. The goal was a multivolume work, with lavish color photographs, that would be at once a practical guide, a scientific record, and an inspiration to gardeners and farmers around the world. The 1911 brochure summarized Burbank's career in glowing terms and focused on his latest creation, noting: "There are three billion acres of desert in the world.... It took the imagination of a Burbank to conceive a way to transform these three billion acres into productivity." Using a tense that might be called "future superlative," the prospectus described the amazing values to be expected of the fruit harvest from the prickly pear without its prickles and the forage value of the spineless cactus after the pears were gathered. In an eerie foreshadowing of the ethanol controversies of recent years, the booksellers also predicted that spineless cactus "can produce $1200 of Denatured Alcohol per acre as against $35 from an acre of Indian corn." (24)

The director of the Luther Burbank Publishing Company was a tireless enthusiast named Oscar Binner, who also had helped assemble and publicize a traveling exhibit of Burbank's marvels, a large glass-sided display case in which some two hundred glass jars held pickled specimens of Burbank fruits and vegetables. A large paddle of spineless cactus, flanked by luscious spineless prickly pears, occupied the central shelf, directly under a bust of Burbank.

The Luther Burbank traveling display was a huge attraction. In January 1911, the cabinet of botanical curiosities was featured at the Western Land Products Exposition in Omaha, where it warranted a large photograph in the Omaha Bee. In March, it was declared the premier feature of the Pacific Lands and Products Exposition in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Times reported on the entire show under the headline "Plant Freaks to Be Shown" and the subhead "Wizard Burbank Will Exhibit Some Queer Ones." (25) By November, the exhibit had made its way to New York's Madison Square Garden, where it attracted considerable interest at the Land and Irrigation Exposition despite such distractions as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Ode to Irrigation" under the sponsorship of the state of Utah. Even skeptics were enthralled when several specimens of spineless cactus were taken to the cows in the New York State display and enthusiastically consumed. (26)

Many were gawking, but who was buying? Jack London, for one. The writer, adventurer, and rancher lived close enough to Burbank to ride over to Santa Rosa for agricultural advice while he was trying to make his new Sonoma County enterprise a model of modern farm management, and he placed his orders directly with the cactus's creator. On June 26, 1911, while traveling in Hawaii, London sent his sister Eliza (who served as his farm manager) an order for 130 cuttings of sixteen different varieties of spineless cactus to be purchased directly from Burbank in Santa Rosa. He also included detailed instructions on dynamiting holes for planting, separating forage cactus from ones that would be grown for their fruit, and asking Burbank himself about whether the drainage conditions of the site he had in mind made it suitable for growing the cactus. (27)

There is no record of London's success, but the signs are not good. Among the many brochures, clippings, and scribbled notes the writer kept for his farm experiments is a set of four sheets of yellow foolscap paper, stapled together. The sheets are blank except for the word "cactus" penciled at the top in London's handwriting. Four years after the first planting, Eliza wrote to her brother, "On the one sore patch just northerly from your dwelling, in fork of the roads, I have permitted Mr. Lawson to plant cactus. He is furnishing the plants and keeping ground in condition at no expense to us and is to give us 25% of cactus raised. I thought this a good chance for us to try out the cactus proposition without expense." (28)

Unfortunately, the nearly empty ledger of London's spineless cactus experiment seems to have been typical. As often happens with investment bubbles, the spineless cactus had its greatest value as something to be sold, not used, and records of anyone using it for cattle feed or fruit production in the United States are far scarcer than evidence of the multiple ways people hoped to profit by supplying those end users.

From the beginning, there had been warnings that the spineless cactus was not an easy or instant panacea for the problems of desert ranches. For several years, David Griffiths, a cactus expert at the USDA's Bureau of Plant Industry, had been mounting a campaign against Burbank and those who promoted him. In 1905, before the boom began, the bureau had issued Griffiths' booklet, The Prickly Pear and Other Cacti as Food for Stock, which investigated singeing, steaming, chopping, disjointing, and other means of preparing cacti as feed for cows, sheep, goats, and hogs. In 1907, Griffiths' The Tuna as Food for Man, which explored the nutritive qualifies of the prickly pear fruit, was prefaced by a distinctly grumpy acknowledgment that "interest in cacti in general, from both a food and a forage standpoint, has been greatly stimulated by popular writers during the past two or three years." In 1909, Griffiths felt compelled to issue "The 'Spineless' Prickly Pears," stressing "limitations ... placed upon the growing of the plants as farm crops which ought to be of service to those who may be misled by ill-advised stories of the phenomenal adaptability of this class of prickly pears in the agriculture of our arid States." (29)

By 1912, Griffiths had risen from assistant agrostologist to agriculturalist at the USDA, all the while continuing to criticize Luther Burbank. On February 2% 1912, Representative Everis Anson Hayes from Los Angeles rose to the defense of his state's favorite agricultural hero. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, "Mr. Hayes delivered in the House a speech deploring that recently an employee of the Department of Agriculture had seen fit to assail Burbank and even ridicule his genius and the great work he has done and is still doing." Noting that 95 percent of the plums shipped from California were Burbank varieties, as well as almost all the state's potatoes, Hayes declared the spineless cactus Burbank's greatest triumph and insisted that a photograph of Burbank's cactus field be inserted in the Congressional Record, possibly the first such pictorial introduction. (30)

Many more spineless cactus photographs appeared the following July in the Pacific Dairy Review, which devoted its first four pages to the "immense possibilities" of fodder from the cactus before concluding, "Later we may take up some of the problems of cactus, or opuntia, culture, if in fact there shall be any problems in connection with it. From our present state of knowledge it looks so simple that it may not even leave room for the agricultural or dairy editor to do anything but say 'plant opuntias." (31)

Like so many others, the editors of the Pacific Dairy Review were overly optimistic. The problems Griffiths cited were ones that Burbank had always acknowledged, though his various promoters tended to downplay any difficulties in their own accounts. A careful reader who could penetrate the thicket of adjectives in the New Opuntias catalog might have lingered on the conclusion of the following sentence when considering a purchase: "Systematic work for their improvement has shown how pliable and readily molded is this unique, hardy denizen of rocky, drought-cursed, wind-swept, sun-blistered districts and how readily it adapts itself to more fertile soils and how rapidly it improves under cultivation and improved conditions." (32)


As it happened, fertile soft, cultivation, and improved conditions were precisely what the desert lacked, along with water for irrigation and cheap labor to install the fencing needed to protect the defenseless plants from hungry rabbits and other predators. Growers in India or North Africa sent Burbank testimonial letters, but American ranchers were looking for a fast, easy solution to their feed problems. Growing spineless cactus took too long, required too much work, and needed more water than nature provided in truly arid areas with much less rainfall than Sonoma or Riverside. If ranchers in the California desert could provide such ideal conditions, they would be raising alfalfa, which was, in fact, a better feed.

But if the cactus wasn't flourishing as hoped, the enthusiasm of those who wanted to sell it remained as fresh and green as the grass the Opuntia was supposed to replace. And since this was California, it is no surprise that the spineless cactus boom inspired a side bubble in real estate.

By the second decade of the twentieth century, corporate agriculture had already replaced the small family farm as an economic force in California. (33) The vision of moving to the Golden State and living off the products of the land of sunshine continued to lure many migrants from other regions, however, and they were the target of real estate vendors who embraced the spineless cactus as a way to sell barren land previously considered undesirable for cultivation.

In 1912, for example, a former cattle ranch in the San Joaquin Valley was divided into twenty-acre lots and renamed Oro Loma, the Spineless Cactus Land. The developers advertised that buyers could turn virgin desert into profitable farms by planting spineless cactus, whose paddles would be provided with every purchase. If the buyer didn't initiate cactus cultivation right away, the sellers would still allow them to get into the market on the ground floor by providing, for the paltry additional price of $125, a quarter-acre plot that was fenced and planted with "100 cactus plants of several varieties." "A small charge for superintendence" would bring management and sales of the resulting product "until the purchaser is ready to occupy his farm." (34)

For some time, similar schemes had filled mailboxes and crowded the advertising pages of newspapers and popular magazines. Two typical advertisers from the pages of Sunset Magazine were the Terra Bella Development Company, which offered "fortunes in fruit," and the Conservative Rubber Production Company, which projected "$1500 A Year for Life." (35) The Oro Loma Company, however, offered the special reassurance that came with the name of Luther Burbank, whose photograph occupied the first page of its brochure; on page 2 was another photograph captioned "Young Spineless Cactus on Luther Burbank's Experimental Grounds," which appears to be a reproduction of a 1908 postcard. (36)

Inside pages featured more photographs of cactus fields, as well as other crops that might be used to supplement income while waiting for the cactus profits to roll in. Describing what they called "the spineless cactus industry," the Oro Loma sellers noted that "during the next five years the people that now have a spineless cactus nursery started, or that quickly establish one, on ORO LOMA LANDS, should realize a handsome independence out of the sale of leaves and cuttings" by selling them to other growers and ranchers who did not have the foresight to get into the market early. (37)

Lest the buyer be unwilling to do the math, the numbers were provided: "Each acre of the spineless cactus should supply, during the third and later years ... at least 150,000 leaves per annum. The selling price of the leaves ranges from 20c to $2.50 each, at present. It is not likely they will sell below 20c. each for at least five years.... That means $30,000 per acre, per year. If sold at 10 cents each, it means $15,000. Even at 5 cents each, it amounts to $7,500." Finally, readers were encouraged to organize a colony of friends to buy Oro Loma lands where together they could "enjoy the comforts and luxuries that are common to the people who live in this region." (38)

If twenty acres seemed too much, smaller parcels also were available for those eager to enter the surefire business of becoming a spineless cactus supplier. In the fall of 1913, the Magazine of Wall Street printed a comic response to an unnamed spineless cactus brochure, which the author claimed had inspired him to form his own company, Tailless Jackrabbit (Ltd.): "Today I have a letter in my mail enclosing a prospectus. This well-printed document sets forth that the next great killing in the financial world will be made by the Spineless Cactus, the one invented by Luther Burbank. The salesman who sends me this letter asks me to take an acre or two and interest a few of my personal friends at so much commission per friend. I shall not buy Spineless Cactus Incorporated, today; but when I get my Tailless Jackrabbit (Ltd.), listed on the Stock Exchange, I shall expect all my friends to bite.... Kind reader, may I not put you down for a few shares in Tailless Jackrabbit (Ltd.)? If the door is locked when you call, throw your money over the transom at the sign of the Rabbit's Foot." (39)

Eager to discourage pirates and profiteers and to escape from the cumbersome details of sales, Burbank tried again to acquire an "official" dealer for his spineless cactus. Not far from the Oro Loma Company offices in San Francisco, in the Exposition Building at the corner of Pine and Battery streets, a much larger entity called the Luther Burbank Company appeared in 1913 to make yet another attempt to handle the sale of spineless cactus for the harried inventor. The founders, who had no experience in the plant trade, paid Burbank $30,000 for the exclusive rights to market his creations and sold shares in the company worth well over $300,000. (40)

Interest in the spineless cactus was high in northern California, where Burbank was most famous for his work with orchard fruit, but it was even greater in Los Angeles, the gateway to the desert. The Luther Burbank Company opened a branch office in Los Angeles, managed by a recent arrival from Brooklyn named Bingham Thoburn Wilson, author of The Cat's Paw, The Tale of the Phantom Yacht, The Village of Hide and Seek, and other novels whose very tires should have constituted fair warning.

It appears that Wilson was a good salesman, however. In the fall of 1913, a group of Los Angeles investors, many of them recent arrivals from Canada, formed the El Campo Investment & Land Co. with one hundred thousand plants purchased from the Luther Burbank Company. The company already had bought land in Arlington, south of Riverside, where it planned to cultivate cactus as a prelude to entering the hog and cattle business. Wilson landed another big order from Texas and proudly announced a request from Don Dante Cusi of Mexico City for enough cactus cuttings to plant one thousand acres.

Like the El Campo company, Cusi envisioned the cultivation of the spineless cactus as part of a larger agricultural empire. In 1903, he had acquired over two hundred and forty square miles of property in the dry, hot area of Michoacan and eagerly adopted the latest farming products and technologies. In later years, he would import a German railroad, an English steam engine, and enough irrigation equipment to turn his land into an improbable center for rice growing, but as the Los Angeles Times correctly noted in 1913, his spineless cactus order "would take more than the entire Burbank plantation could supply at one time." (41)

Overexpansion and difficulties in product delivery are classic problems of any new business, but these perils did not seem to bother the managers of the Luther Burbank Company. For the next two years, they continued to spend a fortune on advertising and told their salesmen to accept every order that came their way. When they didn't have enough stock to fill the orders, they bought ordinary Opuntia, singed off the spines with blowtorches or rubbed them off with pads, and sent out the doctored slabs for planting.

Buyers discovered the fraud once the cactus had been planted, of course, but by then it was too late. The Luther Burbank Company collapsed into bankruptcy on February 8, 1916, wiping out many Santa Rosa investors who had bought what seemed a sure road to wealth: a share in marketing their famous neighbor's plants. Although Burbank had little or nothing to do with the company's sales tactics or its fraudulent deliveries and was himself suing the managers for nonpayment of almost ten thousand dollars due on his original contract, the failure of the Luther Burbank Company halted sales and tarnished Burbank's name, at least among scientific researchers who recoiled at the entire attempt to commercialize his product.

Burbank's critics might have taken comfort in comparing his profits, such as they were, to the enormous cost of nurturing his cactus experiments for several decades. Records are scarce, but it seems that none of the many companies formed to exploit Luther Burbank's name or sell his creations ever did more than cover expenses and few managed to get that far. But commercial failure did not mean an end to general interest.


The spineless cactus lived on after the marketing bubble burst, and not only in the scattered gardens and farm plots of early growers. Burbank remained a popular hero, and high school biology textbooks throughout the 1920s featured him and cited his spineless cactus as an example of the careful application of Mendelian and Darwinian principles to the improvement of agricultural products. (42) Children posed in various "Burbankian" costumes at events organized to celebrate the great plant breeder, who was now revered as much as a spiritual model as he was as a commercial inventor.

As such celebrations show, many people still wanted to learn about Burbank's life and creations. In December 1907, when he had spoken about his new spineless cactus to the Southern California Teachers' Association, Burbank had met its president, Henry Augustus Adrian, who also was Santa Barbara's superintendent of schools. Not long after, Adrian left that post to become a regular performer on the Chautauqua circuit, making a successful career of explaining Burbank's creations to eager crowds who came to the traveling lecture halls for uplift and education. Known as the "Luther Burbank Man," Adrian toured the country for the next sixteen years before returning to Santa Barbara in 1925, where he was promptly elected mayor.

While Adrian was drawing throngs to the big brown tents that were a Chautauqua trademark, Burbank remained in Santa Rosa, where he continued to attract his own horde of visitors until his death in 1926. His hundreds of guests included Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the football hero Red Grange, and the Polish statesman and musician Ignace Paderewski. In the 1920s, Burbank hosted Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, who toured the United States and made several visits to the San Francisco area before settling in Los Angeles and buying the former Mount Washington Hotel, which became the headquarters of his Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda's visit left a lasting impression on the young swami. Twenty years later, in 1946, he dedicated his Autobiography of a Yogi "to Luther Burbank--An American Saint." In the chapter "A Saint Amid the Roses," he described his first visit to Santa Rosa. It began with a lesson from Burbank: "The secret of improved plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love." Stopping near a bed of spineless cactus, Burbank had described to Yogananda his method of talking to the cacti and how it was instrumental in successful hybridization: "'You have nothing to fear,' I would tell them. 'You don't need your defensive thorns. I will protect you.'" Gradually "the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless variety." To Yogananda's request for a few cactus leaves to plant in his own garden, Burbank had insisted, "'I myself will pluck them for the swami.' He handed me three leaves, which later I planted, rejoicing as they grew to huge estate," the yogi wrote. (43) The original cactus, or a very early offspring, can still be seen at the Mount Washington site today.

Spineless cactus will never be the answer to world hunger, but it was not an absurd idea. Free of overpromotion, the Burbank varieties are still a respected, if modest, agricultural introduction. In recent years, commercial ranchers and academic researchers have demonstrated renewed interest in prickly pear cultivation in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, southern Texas, and Tunisia, with a strong preference for the spineless varieties. (44) The Food and Agriculture Organization, a branch of the United Nations, calls spineless cactus "an important crop for the subsistence agriculture of the semi-arid and arid-regions," serving as feed for livestock and also controlling desertification and restoring depleted natural rangelands. Commercial plantations of spineless cactus for nopalitos, which have been cultivated for centuries in Mexico, are moving north across the border, along with the burgeoning interest in Mexican cooking. (45)

None of these modern efforts matches the enthusiasm for grand agricultural experiments that made Luther Burbank such an idol a century ago. In 1916, the same year the Luther Burbank Company failed, Congress passed the Stock Raising Homestead Act, increasing the land homesteaders could claim in the arid parts of western states from 160 to 640 acres on the grounds that it was impossible for livestock to survive on less land, given the sparseness of fodder. The Southern Pacific Land Company had already abandoned its efforts to turn its desert holdings into spineless cactus farms and returned its attention to fostering orchard crops in more fertile areas. And in 1922, the Santa Fe Railroad concluded that eucalyptus timber was unsuitable for railroad ties and converted its tree farm into a pricey real estate development, Rancho Santa Fe. But that's another story.

Luther Burbank (1849-1926) was the most famous plant breeder of his day. By his own successful example--well publicized by myriad writers and reporters--he popularized the idea that plants can be shaped to fit human needs. Credited with advancing the science of plant breeding, he was an early and major contributor to the state's growing agricultural industry. This photograph of Burbank at leisure circa 1895 belies his indefatigable efforts, for more than fifty years, to create new plants, including the spineless cactus--one of approximately 800 Burbank varieties of trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, and grains.



Burbank considered the rich and fertile soil of Sonoma County ideal for conducting his plant-breeding experiments. In 1885, he purchased ten acres west of Sebastopol and established the Gold Ridge Experiment Farm as an open-air laboratory for his largescale investigations. There he planted his creations, usually several hundred at a time, in long rows--sometimes more than 700 feet--running north and south. Though he did not develop the spineless cactus at Gold Ridge, Burbank demonstrated that the climate of Sonoma County was favorable for growing numerous varieties of the specimen.



Among Burbank's creations was a gigantic white evening primrose. In his posthumously published book The Harvest of the Years, Burbank called the effect of a field of his primroses "handkerchiefs spread on a lawn." This photograph, made circa 1909 behind his Santa Rosa home, shows beds of poppies beyond the primroses and several varieties of cactus against the fence.



Numerous catalogs and flyers advertised the spineless cactus. "Dry seasons, which are certain to come," Burbank wrote, "have been and will continue to be the source of irreparable loss to stock raisers." Burbank promoted the advantages of his thornless Opuntia--represented by this specimen (right)--to food producers throughout the country and worldwide as fodder for animals, for its medicinal properties, and in the production of juice, jams and preserves, drinks, candy, and candles.



To cattle ranchers in the dry regions of the Southwest, news of forage that would thrive in the desert and safely nourish their livestock was especially welcome. "Millions have died from the thorns of the prickly pear cactus," Burbank noted. "How would you enjoy being fed on needles, fish-hooks, toothpicks, barbed wire fence, nettles, and chestnut burrs?" he asked would-be buyers in a catalog. "The wild, thorny cactus is and always must be more or less of a pest."



Burbank conducted extensive experiments in the development of his spineless cactus. Here, Opuntia grow in planters and fields at Burbank's experiment grounds in Santa Rosa. David Starr Jordon, president of Stanford University, described Burbank's process in a 1905 article: "... the original stock, prickly; the second generation, slightly prickly; the third, without thorns.... This will have very great value in the arid regions." Despite Burbank's lack of formal scientific training, he was inducted into the Agricultural, National Inventors, and Horticultural halls of fame.



As a member of the Luther Burbank Society from 1912 to 1917, the philanthropist Phoebe A. Hearst received this 1913 proof book as the first installment of the society's plans for publication of the 52-volume Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries and Their Practical Application. The chapter on the spineless cactus explained how "in a dozen years, Mr. Burbank carried the cactus back ages in its ancestry, how he proved beyond question by planting a thousand cactus seeds that the spiny cactus descended from a smooth slabbed line of forefathers--how he brought forth a new race without the suspicion of a spine, and with a velvet skin, and how he so re-established these old characteristics that the result was fixed and permanent."



The Spineless Cactus Nursery & Land Co. grew hundreds of acres of thornless cacti--including these of the Melrose variety--in southern California. In a 1913 interview, William L. Wilson, the company's secretary and treasurer, known as the "King of the Spineless Cactus Growers," predicted: "When the value of spineless cactus is fully realized and appreciated, Southern California will have an industry that will loom larger than anything yet attempted in the land of sunshine and flowers."



During the years of the spineless cactus craze, investors formed the Luther Burbank Company to manage sales of Burbank products. As the corporation proclaimed in its 1913 catalog, Luther Burbank's Spineless Cactus, "The Luther Burbank Company is the sole distributor of the Burbank Horticultural Productions, and from no other source can one be positively assured of obtaining genuine Luther Burbank Productions."



To protect against the fraudulent use of Burbank's name, the Luther Burbank Company trademarked its corporate identity. Proof of authenticity also was available to those who bought from the company's local representatives, who, as depicted on the back cover of the 1914 Burbank Seed Book, received an official certificate of appointment, as well as an official Burbank dealer seed case.



In the years following World War I, the public embraced Burbank as both an embodiment of the values of the natural world and an innovative businessman. (Below) Luther posed with his wife, Elizabeth, and schoolchildren dressed as flowers in Santa Rosa, circa 1920. With a great interest in education, he urged parents and educators to nurture children as richly and carefully as precious plants. (Left) Henry Augustus Adrian, the "Luther Burbank Man," toured the country, lecturing on Burbank's life and work and his spineless cactus as a speaker on the Chautauqua lecture circuit--one of many well-known performers and lecturers from the worlds of entertainment, politics, religion, and culture.


JANE S. SMITH is the author of The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants (Penguin Press, 2009), from which portions of this essay are adapted. Her history of the first polio vaccine, Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. A member of the History Department at Northwestern University, she writes about the intersection of science, business, and popular taste.

RELATED ARTICLE: A man of genius.

Edward J. Wickson, professor of agriculture at the University of California, joined notables such as Thomas A. Edison and Theodore Roosevelt in voicing his admiration of Luther Burbank, Wickson dedicated his book The, California Fruits and How to Grow Them (1900) to the imaginative and productive plant breeder:



Portions of this essay are adapted from The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants (New York: Penguin Press, 2009). The editors and author would like to thank horticultural historian Bob Hornback and Rebecca Baker and the staff of the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, California, for assistance with research; Sue Hodson and Melanie Thorpe of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, for help locating fugitive documents; and Adam Shapiro, for access to his collection of biology textbooks.

Caption sources: Luther Burbank with Wilbur Hall, The Harvest of the Years (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927); Luther Burbank's Spineless Cactus (San Francisco: The Luther Burbank Company); David Starr Jordan, "Some Experiments of Luther Burbank," Popular Science Monthly 66 (January 1905); Proof Book Number 1 (Santa Rosa, CA: The Luther Burbank Society, 1913); The Burbank Seed Book (San Francisco: The Luther Burbank Company, 1914); "The Planting of the Largest Spineless Cactus Nursery in the World," Out West, New Series 6, no. 3 (Sept. 1913).

(1) See Roy Wiersma, Luther Burbank Spineless Cactus Identification Project (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008).

(2) Luther Burbank, "Of Easy Culture and Rapid Growth," New Agricultural-Horticultural Opuntias (Los Angeles: Kruckeberg Press, 1907), 5. See also: http:// cactuscatalog/.

(3) Burbank often sold complete control over his plant inventions, including naming rights, so it is impossible to trace his complete work. The best inventory is Walter L. Howard, Luther Burbank's Plant Contributions, University of California College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station, Berkeley, CA, Bulletin 691, Mar. 1945.

(4) Honorable George C. Pardee, Governor of California, Complimentary Banquet in Honor of Luther Burbank Given by the California State Board of Trade at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco: California State Board of Trade Bulletin No. 14, Sept. 14, 1905, 15-16.

(5) When Edison and Ford came to Santa Rosa in 1915, the well-publicized visit was regarded as a meeting of the masters of invention. It was the start of a long friendship and, for Ford, the inspiration for what would become a large collection of Burbankiana at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, MI. Among many other items, the collection includes the building where Burbank was born, transported from Massachusetts, and Burbank's garden spade set in cement at the museum entry.

(6) Liberty Hyde Bailey, "Stoneless Prunes, the Latest Wonder," Sunset Magazine 7, nos. 2-3 (June-July 1901): 81.

(7) The medal, so inscribed, is in the collection of the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA.

(8) E. J. Wickson, "Luther Burbank: Man, Methods and Achievements, Part III," Sunset Magazine 8, no. 6 (April 1902): 277.

(9) David Starr Jordan and Vernon Lyman Kellogg, Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank's Work (San Francisco: Philopolis Press, 1909).

(10) "Wizard's Wisdom," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 6, 1907.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Minutes of the Board of Park Commissioners, July 25, 1905: Moved by Mr. Moran, seconded by Mr. White, that the Park Commissioners offer to Dr. David Griffiths of the Department of Agriculture the use of about five acres of land near the southeast corner of city park for a government forage experimental station for a length of time as may be required, not to exceed 15 years, Balboa Park History, 1905; http://www.

(13) Burbank, "Voices of the Press and Public," New Agricultural-Horticultural Opuntias, 8.

(14) Rutland also bought rights to an early variety of Burbank's plumcot, a plumapricot hybrid that many breeders discredited because they thought the cross was impossible. The plumcot is the ancestor of the modern pluot, which has the distinction of being patented, a protection not available to Burbank. Over the next five years, official delegations from India, Tunisia, and Australia came to Santa Rosa to meet Burbank and examine his newest creation; in letters to his friend Samuel Leib, Burbank also reported that the governments of Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina had invited him to visit and advise them on starting spineless cactus plantations.

(15) W. S. Harwood, New Creations in Plant Life: An Authoritative Account of the Life and Work of Luther Burbank (New York: Macmillan, 1905).

(16) George Wharton James, The Wonders of the Colorado Desert (Southern California), vol. 1 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1906), 224. In a footnote, James noted that after meeting Burbank he realized the cactus would require fencing to survive predators that would no longer be repelled by spines.

(17) Burbank, The Training of the Human Plant (New York: The Century Co., 1907). By 1908, the Mothers Clubs of California had begun a successful effort to declare Burbank's birthday, Mar. 7, Bird and Arbor Day in California and designate it as a time for schoolchildren to learn about Luther Burbank's works.

(18) "Greatest Opportunity of the Age," [Spokane] Spokesman-Review, Apr. 26, 1908.

(19) The Venice Vanguard, July 14, 1909.

(20) According to Norton Parker Chipman, head of the California State Board of Trade, exports had risen from some 16,194 carloads of fruits and vegetables in 1890, each carload holding ten tons of produce, to over 80,000 carloads in 1904; Pardee, Complimentary Banquet, 3.

(21) See Richard J. Orsi, Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 289.

(22) See Oscar Binner, Lather Burbank: How His Discoveries Are to Be Put into Practical Use (Chicago: Oscar E. Binner Co., 1911), 16.

(23) By 1911, several books about Burbank and his work had already been published, including Jordan and Kellogg's Scientific Aspects of Lather Burbank's Work and multiple editions of Harwood's New Creations in Plant Life. The Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC, still expected to publish a scholarly volume on Burbank's methods, written by George Shull, and the directors were shocked to learn that Burbank had signed a contract with Dugall Cree, a Minneapolis publisher, for an illustrated to-volume set about his work to be aimed at a popular audience and sold by subscription. At least two ghostwriters had already begun work on these books when Cree sold the contract to Oscar Binner, who moved his family from Chicago to Santa Rosa and hired a stable of researchers, photographers, and writers to complete what he felt would be a great contribution to world knowledge. Cobbled together from the work of five to ten ghostwriters, including some material that seems to have been left in Santa Rosa by Shull, the Binner project finally appeared in twelve volumes under the title Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries and Their Practical Applications (New York and London: Luther Burbank Press, 1914). Shull never finished his book for the Carnegie Institution, but he kept his notes for decades, planning to return to the project some day.

(24) Binner, Luther Burbank.

(25) "Plant Freaks to Be Shown," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 16, 1911.

(26) George Willoughby, "The Gathering of the Clans," National Magazine 35 (Oct. 1911-Mar. 1912).

(27) Jack London letters to Eliza Shepherd, Box 300, Jack London Collection, Manuscripts Department, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA (hereafter cited as London Collection).

(28) Eliza London to Jack London, May 8, 1915, box 372 (30), London Collection.

(29) David Griffiths, The Prickly Pear and Other Cacti as Food for Stock, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, bulletin no. 74 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1905); Griffiths, The Tuna as Food for Man, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, bulletin no. 116 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1907), 3; Griffiths, The "Spineless" Prickly Pears, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, bulletin no. 140 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1909), 3.

(30) "An Innovation in Washington: To Run Pictures in the Congressional Record," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1, 1912.

(31) "Fodder from the Cactus," Pacific Dairy Review 16, no. 26 (July 1912): 1.

(32) Burbank, "Hardy Spineless Opuntia Ready for the Hybridizer," New Agricultural-Horticultural Opuntias, 2. See also: http:// / cactuscatalog.

(33) See Ronald Tobey and Charles Wetherell, "The Citrus Industry and the Revolution of Corporate Capitalism in Southern California, 1887-1944," California History 74, no. 1 (Spring 1995), 6-21; and H. Vincent Moses, "'The Orange-Grower Is Not a Farmer': G. Harold Powell, Riverside Orchardists, and the Coming of Industrial Agriculture, 1893-1930," California History 74, no. 1 (Spring 1995), 22-37.

(34) Heisner & Shanklin, Oro Loma: Spineless Cactus Lands (Oakland, CA: Horwinski Co., ca. 1912), 17. All quotations from Heisner & Shanklin, Oro Loma, Huntington Library Rare Book Collection, San Marino, CA.

(35) Sunset Magazine 20, no. 3 (January 1908).

(36) Heisner & Shanklin, Oro Loma, 2.

(37) Ibid, 13.

(38) Ibid, 19.

(39) "The Sharpshooter," Magazine of Wall Street 12 (May-Oct. 1913): 387.

(40) See Peter Dreyer, A Gardener Touched with Genius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) for a fuller account of the many businesses that sought to capitalize on Burbank and his creations.

(41) "Big Ranch in Cactus," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4, 1913.

(42) See George W. Hunter, A Civic Biology (New York: American Book Company, 1914) and A New Civic Biology (1926); Benjamin Gruenberg, Elementary Biology (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1919) and Biology and Human Life (1925); Arthur G. Clement, Living Things: An Elementary Biology (Syracuse, NY: Iroquois Publishing Company, 1925); Alfred Kinsey, An Introduction to Biology (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1926); W. M. Smallwood, Ida L. Reveley, and Guy A. Bailey, New General Biology (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1929); Frank M. Wheat and Elizabeth T. Fitzpatrick, Advanced Biology (New York: American Book Company, 1929); S. J. Holmes, Life and Evolution (London: A. &. C. Black, 1931).

(43) Paramahansa Yogananda, The Autobiography of a Yogi (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946), 396.

(44) See Peter Felker, "Commercializing Mesquite, Leucaena, and Cactus in Texas," in Progress in New Crops, ed. J. Janick (Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press, 1996): 133-37; See also Salah Chouki, Spineless Cactus Plantation for Forage, doc/PUBLICAT/cactusnt/cactusyhtm; Felker, Utilization of Opuntia for Forage in the United States of America, http://www.; Gerhard C. De Kock, The Use of Opuntia as a Fodder Source in Arid Areas of Southern Africa, y2808e/y2808eof.htm; Juan C. Guevara and Oscar R. Estevez, Opuntia Spp. [spineless] for Fodder and Forage Production in Argentina: Experiences and Prospects, http://www. htm; Patricio Azocar, Opuntia as Feed for Ruminants in Chile, docrep/005/y2808e/y2808eob.htm.

(45) Felker, "Commercializing Mesquite, Leucaena, and Cactus in Texas."

Edward J. Wickson, The California Fruits and How to Grow Them: A Manual of Methods Which Have Yielded Greatest Success; With Lists of Varieties Best Adapted to the Different Districts of the State (San Francisco: Pacific Rural Press, 1900); California Historical Society
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