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Research Project: Resources for the Genetic Improvement of Potato

Location: Vegetable Crops Research

Title: The origin of Russet Burbank (Netted Gem), a sport of Burbank

item Bethke, Paul
item Donnelly, Danielle

Submitted to: American Journal of Potato Research
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/12/2014
Publication Date: 4/4/2015
Citation: Bethke, P.C., Donnelly, D. 2015. The origin of Russet Burbank (Netted Gem), a sport of Burbank. American Journal of Potato Research. 92(2):175-214.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Russet Burbank was the most successful North American potato cultivar of the past century. It dominated the fresh market for decades and became the foremost French fry processing variety. Russet Burbank set the standard for taste and texture of baked potatoes and French fries and it made an indelible impact on the North American potato industry. Yet, despite the importance of Russet Burbank to our shared cultural heritage, the widely disseminated accounts of its origin are incorrect. The most popular account, based on a paragraph written by Luther Burbank, states that the Russet Burbank variety was introduced by the Colorado potato grower Lou Sweet in 1914. This statement is not consistent with the literature of that time. It is likely that Russet Burbank, a sport of Burbank, originated earlier and that it was introduced in 1902 as Netted Gem by L. L. May & Co. (St. Paul MN). Seed tubers of the Netted Gem variety were originally acquired from a Montana rancher who, in 1895, found unique russet tubers growing in a field that had been planted the year before with potatoes. In L. L. May’s 1902 catalog, Netted Gem was promoted as “a Montana seedling; handsome, prolific, with unsurpassed quality and unequaled keeping quality.” Russet Burbank is one of several synonyms for Netted Gem and the two names were used interchangeably for many years. In this report, we use information gleaned from extension bulletins, trade journals, textbooks and the scientific literature to trace the fascinating, early history of the Russet Burbank potato.