Horticulture is the study of and growing of plants. According to the Ohio State University History of Horticulture website, some of the great ancient thinkers such as Plato, Socrates and Hippocrates dabbled in the study of plants. More recently, three other men made great contributions to this science, becoming famous in the world of horticulture.
Luther Burbank, born in 1849 in Massachusetts, never went to college, yet he is among the most famous of all horticulturists. After reading some of Charles Darwin’s works as a youth, Burbank bought some land and began a career in horticulture that lasted for 55 years until he died in 1926. Burbank focused on crossbreeding plants to improve their quality, coming up with a superior potato that enabled him to make enough money to move west to California. While working on as many as 3,000 crossbreeding experiments at once, Burbank developed over 800 new types of plants. Burbank lacked scientific data-keeping skills but did write books about his work. His efforts brought horticulture into the public eye.
Joseph Hooker, an Englishman, came from a family of scientists who specialized in studying plants. His father was Glasgow University’s professor of botany and as a child, Hooker studied mosses and orchids. He traveled abroad extensively and collected plants from places such as Australia and New Zealand. In 1847 and again two years later, he visited the Himalayas and studied the plant life there. Hooker began to travel to places such as Africa, the Middle East and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to study and collect plants. He was a prolific author who wrote books on plants as well as many other subjects. Hooker was a close friend of Charles Darwin and believed in his theories. Hooker died in 1911.
Spencer Beach was born in New York in 1860. He was a graduate of Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa in 1887 and stayed in Iowa to study fruit culture. By 1890, Beach was the head of the horticultural department at Texas A&M University but left there to become a horticulturist at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva. He contributed greatly to the study of grapes, apples and other fruits and started a program breeding better apple trees while in New York. He wrote books about the subject before returning to Iowa State, where he promoted apple breeding. He was instrumental in the founding of the American Society for Horticultural Science. Beach died in 1922 with the reputation as one of the leading horticulturists of his time.