A Little History of

          As early as 500 BC, plants were kept under bell-shaped glass jars for exhibit. But the terrarium in its modern form was invented by accident in 1827 by Nathaniel Ward, a London doctor.

Indoor Wardian Case (from Ward's 1852 book)
          The fern case was discovered accidentally in 1827 by Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a London physician with a passion for botany. Dr. Ward built a fern rockery in his backyard, but the ferns kept dying, poisoned by the fumes from the city's factories. Ward was also studying moths and caterpillars and, while experimenting with a cocoon in a covered jar for observation, he noticed that several plants had grown in the bit of soil at the bottom of the jar. Among the bottled plants was a fern and, unlike the ferns in his garden, it looked healthy; Dr. Ward concluded that plants could flourish in London if they could be protected from the city's polluted air. Ward pursued his discovery in miniature greenhouses, which he named fern cases, and which are now known as Wardian cases or terrariums.

          For the first time, horticulturists were able to bring back sensitive tropical plants in Wardian cases well-protected from salt air and changing climatic conditions during the long sea voyage. Ward's terrariums also became popular for growing the plants, and it became, in various guises, almost a domestic necessity. The poor had to content themselves with inexpensive rudimentary versions, but there were no limits for the rich. Wardian cases grew into miniature Taj Mahals and Brighton Pavilions, perfect vehicles for the contemporary love of elaborate ornamentation as well as living plants. The Wardian case was fashionable in the United States in the early 1860s, and hardly a self-respecting Victorian household was without one.

          Today's "Wardian Cases", or Terrariums, as we now call them, no longer have the need to keep our plants away from cold, and fouled air, but serve quite another purpose. With the dry air of our modern air conditioned, and forced air heated homes, many plants have difficulty thriving without a great deal of attention. Terrariums allow us to keep plants easily in our homes in attractive, decorative containers, while creating an environment which requires very little care. Closed terrariums, happy in their humidity filled surroundings, actually thrive on neglect.

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