Terrariums are Terrific

Article by Dawn Pettinelli, UConn HGEC

Although it really has not been a bad January weather wise, the dull, cold days find me searching for that bit of green. Thoughts turn to inside plants and sprucing them up a bit. Most houseplants respond well to some grooming and repotting. This is also a good time to take a hard look at any dish gardens and terrariums that were made several months or years ago and if the plants have outgrown their space allotment, the planter can be redone. Such was the case of my poor terrarium.

Overgrown terrarium

Houseplant popularity has been on the rise for several years now and many enjoy displaying their plants attractively in dish gardens and terrariums. Our modern day terrariums stem from a discovery by a London doctor, Nathanial Ward (1791-1868). He discovered healthy ferns growing in a glass jar he was using to study moths and caterpillars. The air inside the jar was cleaner than polluted London air and growing conditions could be controlled. The invention of these portable, glass containers, known as Wardian cases, meant that botanists and other scientists could transport plants from their foreign habitats back to Europe for study in a manner more conducive to their survival.

While the Wardian cases were closed containers, modern day terrariums can be either open or closed. Closed terrariums work best with plants that tolerate or thrive in relatively high humidity and enjoy indirect light. Care must be taken not to overwater and they should not be set in direct sunlight. I remember filling brandy sniffers with mosses, partridge berry, wintergreen, and small ferns during my high school days. After sealing with plastic wrap, these microcosms of the forest floor would share my desk space for months while I did my homework.

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