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Terrariums and Vivariums
Terrariums, vivariurns, and aquariums are microenvironments under glass. Terrariums were popularized
in the 19th century when a London surgeon, Dr. Daniel Ward, accidently created a garden in a jar. A natural
history hobbyist, Dr. Ward wanted to see an adult sphinx moth hatch from a chrysalis. He buried the cocoon
in damp soil in a glass jar and covered the jar with a metal lid. Some grass and a fern sprouted from the soil,
and Dr. Ward lost interest in the cocoon. The plants thrived in the jar without additional water and no
influx of fresh air. After four years, while Dr. Ward was absent from his home, the metal lid rusted and rain
entered the jar causing the plants to rot.
In 1832, Dr. Ward decided to ship some glass-contained plants to Sydney, Australia, by way of Cape Good
Hope. The containers of ferns and grasses, lashed to the ship’s deck during the eight-month voyage, arrived
intact and healthy. Dr. Ward’s Australian colleagues returned the glass containers to London with equal
After Dr. Ward published his findings the glass-contained planters became known as Wardian cases. The
development of Wardian cases opened up intercontinental plant trade. Indian teas, Chinese bananas and
Brazilian rubber trees were introduced in compatible climates around the world. Exotic, tropical plants
became available in Europe and America. Dr. Ward’s efforts provided a global selection of plant material for
the indoor gardener, and an effective method for maintaining delicate plant species. Today, terrariums are
used mostly by hobbyists who plant commercially propagated materials.
Terrariums can be used as a naturalistic environment for keeping small reptiles and amphibians, much like
an aquarium is used for keeping fish. This type of modified terrarium is called a “vivarium.”
A good way to recycle glass containers is to create a terrarium. Almost any type of clear glass container can
be used for a terrarium, as long as it holds moisture and transmits light. Possible candidates include
canning jars, fish bowls, juice pitchers, chemist flasks, light fixtures, curio cabinets, and wine bottles. Special
tools are required for planting bottle terrariums.
Colored glass is inappropriate as it reduces light intensity and transmits its own color while absorbing
other colors in the light spectrum. Red tinted glass will block blue light, and increase light in the red
spectrum, causing plants to become leggy. Green glass should also be avoided because it blocks red and
blue light, both necessary for healthy plant growth.