Monday, 13 November 2017

locavore or on the growth of plants in closely glazed cases

Writing for the Atlantic, Jen Maylack invites us to reflect on how a seemingly elementary idea, the not-so distant ancestor of the modern terrarium, changed the course of the world—heralding in not only global trade but also the spread of Western colonialism and the spread of invasive species.
As basic as the principle underlying it is the Wardian Case was so revolutionary as to be the realisation of all the past endeavours of the alchemists—achieving a hermetic seal, that is, staving off the advance of time that defines all us mortals—with just as far reaching repercussions albeit in an unexpected form: a self-regulating environment that would capture in microcosm a plant’s natural habitat and perpetuate it at least long enough for it to become a transplant in a botanical garden or another area that afforded similar climes and growing conditions. The invention of the portable greenhouse came about just in 1829 when a physician and garden enthusiast (with a special obsession for ferns), one Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, lamented how London’s polluted air was killing off his prized collection and learned through trial and error that if prepared correctly that the right moisture levels could be maintained within a closed-system, by extension enabling the possibility of long-distance shipping incrementally to our present world of year-around availability fresh fruits and vegetables, regardless of one’s location—which of course have collateral environmental and geopolitical costs associated with them.