Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Wardian Case

"I came here with a similar interest, to discuss and try to build an entirely sealed terrarium that wouldn't ever be opened again."

- Bry84 England, Wed, Nov 24, 04 at 17:13

The direct forerunner of the modern terrarium, the Wardian Case, was invented by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1829. When he realized simultaneously that the ferns in his garden were being poisoned by London's air pollution (heavy in coal smoke and sulfur) but that their spores were actually germinating in bottles where he kept cocooning moths with a bit of soil, he had a closely-fitted glazed wood case built and found that ferns grown in it thrived. Botanists and nurserymen alike were thrilled by the possibilities sprung from this invention; whereas foreign plants could only ever have traveled as seeds before, now tender young plants the world over could traverse an exhaustive sea journey safely within their glazed cases.

I am continuing with a line of thought concerning humans, their natural environment, and the desire to capture and control it. Vivarium seem to be the pinnacle of the human obsession not just to manipulate and control, but to actually posses the natural environment.

Perusing current blogs and online forums, it is apparent that the current trend in vivarium experimentation is concerned with containing a miniature ecosystem wholly within a sealed vessel, as the quote suggests, never to be opened again. I find it interesting that while one of the lofty goals of terrarium and vivarium enthusiasts is to study and recreate self-sustaining ecosystems, most admit that it is veritably impossible. Is it because of the complexity and ingenuity of the planet's interconnected ecosystems? Or is it because with the inception of the original vivarium, a bunch of money hungry Victorian botanists shuffled foreign plant species all over the world like trading cards?

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