Saturday, 18 January 2014

The clever Dr Ward

After some months, my Gothic adventure, The Lost Orchid, has reached its final editing stages, so I've been revisiting the 1880s and the original orchidmania.

I came across a photo of this rather lugubrious chap who changed the face of botany by inventing a glass case to transport specimens. Meet Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward and his amazing Wardian Case. Before this, collectors just threw specimens into sacks and hoped for the best.

These Victorians were all bonkers. His personal herbarium amounted to 25,000 specimens.

Dr Ward also kept cocoons of moths and the like in sealed glass bottles, and in one, he found that a fern spore and a species of grass had germinated and were growing in a bit of soil. Interested, he left the seal intact for about four years, noting that the grass actually bloomed once. After that time however, the seal had rusted, and the plants soon died from city pollution. So the clever Dr Ward had a carpenter build him a closely fitted glazed wooden case and found that ferns grown in it thrived.

He published his experiment and followed it up with a book in 1842, On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.

You can read free it for yourself here.

By Pamela Kelt

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