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Master Gardener: Thomas Edison - Horticultural Scientist

Most of us know Thomas Edison for his work with the light bulb, but how many of you are familiar with his studies in horticulture?

An aged Edison purchased 13.5 acres of land outside Ft. Myers, Fla. around 1900. That property, now known as the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, was formally dedicated in February, 2012. Edison’s wife, Mina, bequeathed the original property to the cty of Ft. Myers in 1947. The lab is now a registered Florida Historic Landmark as well a National Register Historic Site.

Edison first visited the area in 1885, desiring to set up a lab and growing fields to cultivate bamboo. His plan was to grow different varieties of the plant and test the feasibility of bamboo strips as filaments in light bulbs. That dream fizzled, so to speak, but the inventor loved the area so much he used the property as his get-a-way retreat. A good friend, Henry Ford, eventually bought property neighboring his.

Around 1928 Edison struck up a scientific and business partnership with Harvey Firestone (the tire dude). Their primary interest was developing an alternative to rubber from plants that could be grown in this country. Together, Firestone, Ford and Edison each put up $25,000 and founded the Edison Botanic Research Corporation.

Edison would go on to test over 2,200 different species of plants at the facility, before finally settling on (of all things) the goldenrod as the most promising plant for latex extraction. He eventually developed his own strain, Solidago edisoniana, which grew to fourteen feet tall. The process of extracting latex from goldenrod garnered him his 1,090th patent. Sometime after Edison’s death, the research lab was moved to Georgia.

So if you’re ever in the Ft. Myers area (and you’re a horticulture or history nut like me), look this place up.

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