Sir Hooker and the Terrariums Early Uses

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Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was a notable botanist and explorer in the 19th century. He was also the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a close friend of Charles Darwin. Through his work in botany he developed a correspondence with Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, the inventor of the terrarium or Wardian Case, who we discussed in our previous blog. Sir Hooker would take Ward's new invention on his expeditions across the globe in order to collect new and exotic plants for the Royal Society's collection.[1]

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Previous to the terrarium, seeds would be covered in beeswax and placed in jars of honey, or in silk lined tins. This method was unfortunately ineffectual as salt air and pests would lead to disease and desiccation. [2] 

The terrariums could be kept on deck, protected from the salt air and rodents, but still able to provide moisture to the plants through the terrariums condensation cycle.

On Joseph Hooker's first expedition to Antarctica, from 1939-1843, he gathered live specimens in New Zealand to return to the Kew Gardens. The following extract is from a letter sent by Hooker from the Bay of Islands, New Zealand in 1841.[1]

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"This morning however I sent on board the Exporter our large Wards case upwards of 4 foot long full of Ferns & plants for Kew Gardens. Among them you will find the Corokia buddleioides, several Alseuosmia, Laurus Tawa & Tarairi. I filled the bottom of the box with billets of wood, covered them with Sandy soil & then put in the claey[sic] soil in which all these plants grow with some vegetable mould watered them until the water ran freely from the plug hole, let it drain covered it up & put on the covers"

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Sir Hooker would spend his life exploring India, The Himalayas, Morocco, Palestine, and the Western United States. The terrarium became an invaluable tool in the science of botany and would be used to collect thousands of plant varieties from around the globe. 

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[1]  Huxley, Leonard 1918. Life and letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker OM GCSI. London, Murray.

[2] McCook, Stuart. (2016). 'Squares of Tropic Summer': The Wardian Case, Victorian Horticulture, and the Logistics of Global Plant Transfers, 1770-1910. 

 

Next time: We will discuss the commercial uses of the terrarium in the tea and rubber industries of the 19th Century.