Michurin, Ivan Vladimirovich (1855-1935), Russian plant geneticist

Lotte Jacobi, Portrait of Ivan Vladimirovich MichurinSeptember 5-8, 1932

Born in 1855, Ivan Michurin was a plant geneticist who greatly advanced agricultural production in Russia by cultivating fruit trees capable of withstanding harsh climates. Unrecognized under the tsar, Michurin enjoyed widespread recognition after the revolution, as his scientific developments were declared to be of national importance and worthy of government support. With the mass collectivization of rural farms under Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan (1928-1932), Michurin’s fruit tree varieties were planted in state farms across Russia, greatly extending the geographical range of Russian agriculture to both the north and east (Goncharov and Savel’ev).

Lotte Jacobi, Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin with Young Man, September 5-8, 1932

Since early childhood, Ivan Michurin gardened alongside his father, and throughout his youth, he experimented with breeding fruit trees and decorative plants. Between 1878 and 1893, Ivan Michurin, now a young man, established a large collection of over 600 cultivars of fruit and berry crops on a small plot of land in the city of Kozlov, now Michurinsk (Bakharev). From this stockpile, he began experiments in making new varieties by breeding hybridized apples, pears, cherries, and plums. From his friends and scientific admirers in the gardening community, Michurin received wild apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots, and almonds from Korea, Manchuria, Northern China, Tibet, and the Himalayas, which he carefully bred with his stockpile of fruits from France, Germany, Crimea, and the Caucus.

Lotte Jacobi, Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin's Laboratory, September 5-8, 1932

Lotte Jacobi, Technician for FruitSeptember 5-8, 1932

Michurin was the first to utilize this breeding method, called distant hybridization, which he used to combine the best features from plant species across Europe and Asia. By breeding both wild and cultivated species, and then ameliorating the hybrids through repeated cross-hybridization, Michurin was able to increase the hardiness of the plants against both winter weather and disease (Goncharov and Savel’ev). Between 1890 and 1898, for the first time, plants with green leaves, sweet cherries, and grapes grew out of the wintry ground of Koslov. This scientific development greatly enriched the northern regions by granting them fruits and berries previously only known to those in southern Russia (Bakharev).

Lotte Jacobi, Portrait of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin [marked up by Jacobi for cropping]September 5-8, 1932 

This method transformed Russian agriculture, as Michurin’s followers used this process of distant hybridization with other species, including field crops. A self-taught man, Ivan Michurin was just as good at teaching others. By all accounts he was patient and helpful to amateur gardeners, training the next generation of Russian horticulturalists in his methods. He maintained correspondence with gardeners in Russia’s most severe climates, including Siberia and the Urals, exchanging seeds and plant materials with them, as well as writing research papers and establishing gardening institutions in the regions.

Lotte Jacobi, Mountain Oak Converted to a Pear Tree by Ivan Vladimirovich MichurinSeptember 5-8, 1932

Lotte Jacobi, Michurinsk Museum of Plant Scientist Ivan Vladimirovich MichurinSeptember 5-8, 1932

Ivan Michurin died in 1935, three years after the city in which he worked was renamed in his honor. His cultivars of fruit and berry crops are still being planted today (Bakharev).


Michurin Photograph Exhibit

Contributor: Tara Landers

Works Cited:

Bakharev, A. N. “The Remarkable Life and Work of I. V. Michurin 1855- 1935.” I. V. Michurin: Results of Sixty Years of Work, Moscow: Cельхозгиз, 1936, pp. XVII- LXIV.

Goncharov, N. P. and Savel’ev, N. I. “Ivan V. Michurin: On the 160th Anniversary of the Birth of the Russian Burbank.” Russian Journal of Genetics: Applied Research, 2016, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 105-127.