On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases

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In the early nineteenth century, live plant cuttings were commonly transported between continents in wooden boxes exposed to the elements on the decks of ships; unsurprisingly, it was rare for them to arrive in good health. The glass cases devised by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868) were a revolutionary step forward in preserving botanical specimens. In this monograph, first published in 1842, Ward explores some of the most common causes of plant deaths in cities and aboard ships, including air quality and temperature. Most importantly, he emphasises the need for light. Although photosynthesis would not be chemically understood until later that century, Ward recognised that a glass case was infinitely preferable to an opaque one. His rapidly adopted invention would have far-reaching effects, allowing for the safe transportation of tea from China to the Himalayas, rubber from the Amazon and medicinal species from the Andes to India.