On the growth of plants in closely glazed cases
The transportation and propagation of plants was to change forever with the inventions of Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791–1868). Dumbarton Oaks holds two editions of his small book On growth of plants in closely glazed cases. Ward was keenly interested in raising caterpillars into moths and butterflies in glass hatching jars. He also enjoyed growing ferns in his yard. However, Ward’s ferns always died because he lived in close proximity to coal smoke. Observing that seeds would sprout and flourish in his caterpillar jars, thriving in the humid environment and protected from coal pollution, Ward invented the first terrarium, a glass case for growing plants. As one historian writes, “the world beat a path to his door.”
Ward first called his glass boxes “fern cases” because he used them to house his fern collection. However, he quickly realized the implications of his invention for transporting live plants overseas. The chief hazards of plant transportation—salt particles in the air, extreme temperature changes, rats and insects—could be almost entirely avoided if the plants were grown in a protected environment within glass. His cases simplified the introduction of plants to faraway lands such as Australia. The Wardian case also revolutionized the history of private plant ownership in England. His invention enabled the Victorian crazes for ferns and orchids. The British tossed out the Cape flora that had been so popular in the eighteenth century and exchanged them for extremely delicate exotics that could now be grown at little cost. Even working-class people with no garden and little money could enjoy the pleasure of growing their own plants in a Wardian case.
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