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The last Wardian Case in Australia

I found the last Wardian Case in Australia. At our June Heritage Rose Meeting I spoke about Plant Hunters, and in particular Robert Fortune, as I demonstrated how to take cuttings of R.fortuniana, the rose that we use in WA as a rootstock plant for budding roses. The conversation subject progressed to the Wardian Case used for the transportation of plants that began in the 1800's.

Barbara J, one of our rose members, kindly mentioned to me that there was one on display at Waroona Historical Society Museum. So we decided to plan a weekend drive and travelled to Waroona to take a look.

This case was used by Hamel Nursery that grew trees for King’s Park, Rottnest Island, Karrakatta and Fremantle Cemeteries in the early days.

A temporary nursery was established in Guildford in 1896 and the permanent State Nursery was

established in 1897. This collection of trees was used for propagation to supply trees around the

state. Between 1925 to 1957, four and a half million trees were grown at the Hamel Nursery

located just south of Waroona. The collection of trees and shrubs is varied and rare at the old

nursery site.

The ‘Wardian Case’ at the museum is believed to be from the 1930 era and the last of its kind in Australia.

In the 1800 the ‘Wardian Cases’ were used to transport all varieties of plants around the world by

placing ‘Wardian Cases’ on the deck of the tall sailing ships to get natural light. China Roses found their way to Europe via India and Cape Horn taking many months at sea. The first experimental journey to test the boxes was to Australia in 1833. After eight months at sea the plants arrived in good condition.

A ‘Wardian Case’ is an early form of a terrarium, a glazed case made from wood and glass and

invented by Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, a passionate botanist in 1829. Dr Ward had trouble

trying to grow ferns in his London garden so he took the plants indoors and housed them in glass

jars. After the success of his ‘fern in the jar’ experiment that protected the delicate plants from

poor air quality and industrial pollution, he decided to build a larger glazed box for his ferns. Dr

Ward’s plant supplier was the nurseryman George Loddiges who began to use the box for moving

plants around the globe, as did Robert Fortune and other Plant Hunters. What began as a simple

personal experiment was to become the most valuable invention of a generation.

A research book about the ‘Wardian Case’ has recently been written and the case from Waroona is featured as a very important piece of botanical transport history.

Anna Olivier Jan 31, 1891

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