Object Label – Wardian Case – Final

Wardian Case
Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward

This ordinary looking glass case plays an important historical role in the British Empire’s plan to get new crops to different parts of the empire. This method of having a hermetically sealed glass case was simulated by Dr. N.B. Ward through serendipity when he observed a tiny fern emerging at the bottom of the glass bottle while doing a separate research on moths in 1829.

Plants and seeds were able to survive in this glass case due to the controlled environment where each element of a plant’s need is trapped inside and the glass case becomes its own eco-system. Once the Wardian Case is shut, it needs little to no attention at all. This proved to be useful when plant explorers used the Wardian Cases to transport different seeds such as the Rubber Tree plant from Brazil back to Kew in 1876. The plant can be kept contained in the portable glasshouse free from dirt and salt accumulated during months at sea.

This mass movement of seeds illustrate the botanical imperialism by the British to recognize the prosperity it has on the Empire’s economy and towards colonial expansion. These cases however was not fully embraced by all as the working class gardeners argued that these mass moving of life across continents has the British playing ‘God’.

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