A Wardian Case, or Wardian Fern Case is a glass-enclosed container that was invented in the 1800’s by Dr. Nathanial Ward. These cases are now seen as the precursor to the modern terrarium.
Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was a practicing physician and an amateur botanist who was trying (but failing) to grow ferns and mosses in the backyard of his London home. At the same time he had been collecting and studying moths and cocoons in glass hatching jars, when he noticed that at the bottom of one of the jars grew a small fern. For the next four years he observed the plants growth. Eventually Dr. Ward realized that by placing plants in sealed containers he could create a type of miniature greenhouse that would protect them from the smoggy London air that limited the growth of his outdoor ferns. Dr. Ward began creating his own miniature glass containers or "fern cases" designed to house his personal fern collection.
As a result of his discovery, plants could now be protected from the salty air they had always encountered at sea. It was now possible for scientists to transfer plants from one continent to another. English explorers began collecting species of plants from around the globe and shipping them back to London.
The first overseas test of the Wardian Case was made in July 1833, when Dr. Ward successfully shipped two cases filled with British ferns and grasses all the way to Sydney, Australia.
The Victorian Era
It wasn't long before these attractive cases became a status symbol throughout Victorian England, and America. Wealthier families positioned Wardian cases in their parlors, filling them with lovely and exotic plants.
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