Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Wardian cases and the process of transporting plants (bbc.com)
108 points by m-i-l 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

If you are interested in making your own terrariums and such, check out the Serpa Design youtube channel:


You can get started with just stuff you have lying around at home and what you can find outside.


Ahh, as a hobbyist amateur Aquascaper I like articles like this.

If anyone wants to learn how to get a great planted tank with minimal maintenance. I suggest Diana Walstad's book "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium". A beginner will easily get amazing success with this method (though it doesn't last forever and a year or two later this will start to break down).

50 Things that Made the Modern Economy is one of my favorite podcasts!

For anyone who finds this article (slash podcast episode) interesting, I'd also recommend the episode on the Hollerith punch card, which is kinda relevant to the history of the computing field :)

Hollerith punch card episode page: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz2x7

The article for this episode (i.e. same format as main link): https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50578234

I also recommend the author's other podcast "Cautionary Tales". It's very well produced, and fascinating.


Ha, I made a similar comment, which puzzled me as I couldn't find it; turns out this was a dupe of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22308482, same URL different title.

I recently read "For All the Tea in China" which talks about these and Robert Fortune a bit, it was a fun book. https://www.amazon.com/All-Tea-China-England-Favorite/dp/014...

>He was a fern enthusiast but had struggled to grow them in the polluted city air.

>Ward's invention...let the light in. It kept the soot and smoke out.

How bad was the air back then, was it really so bad that a plant couldn't grow? That notion seems unbelievable.

People literally used to dust soot off their garden plants -- you can see this mentioned in some books. It was not uncommon for visibility in London to be extremely poor due to soot[0]. In fact, this peaked in the 1950's due to the combination of coal burning with automobile emissions[1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pea_soup_fog

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Smog_of_London

People literally used to dust soot off their garden plants

We do this in China.

Other significant western plant hunters who were active in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Rock https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Forrest_(botanist) Many were active in China's southwestern region of Yunnan, the origin of tea and camellias.

Now that I think about it, I wiped black road dust from brakes/tires off the windowsills of my drafty street-level SF (Oak Street) apartment every week too. One of the reasons I moved. It doesn't take much.

Lately, I feel like we're living in the Information Age equivalent of this.

Shortly after the Industrial Revolution, society was inundated with all of the new incredibly unhealthy side effects of industrialization. People simply didn't know that those consequences were coming, what their scale would be, or how to handle them. Technology changes much faster than culture, laws, and infrastructure.

Today, we are inundated with disinformation, memes, and a horde of technology trying to take our attention away from our own control. It looks to me as unhealthy and unsustainable as a soot-covered 1850s London or a 1960s 747 packed full of smokers.

It's a scary time to be alive, but I have some optimism that we will figure out how to mitigate the negative consequences of the information world we've created, hopefully in time to deal with the next revolution that follows.

It was sooty enough that the moths evolved to be darker colored, so that they would blend in better with the tree trunks that were darkened by soot.

> How bad was the air back then, was it really so bad that a plant couldn't grow? That notion seems unbelievable.

It could be absolutely dire in the cities. When every house and office is using coal in open fires for heating the consequences are fairly obvious.

According to https://ourworldindata.org/london-air-pollution London had nearly 600 micrograms per cubic metre of particulates in the early C19th. That came with similarly outrageous levels of Sulphur Dioxide, which dissolved in moisture to make it acidic.

Only especially hardy plants could cope with this. Hence the tendency for middle class families to grow aspidistra as a house plant ("keep the aspidistra flying" as George Orwell once wrote) - it was one of the few plants that would tolerate the pollution.

If you wanted to grow anything delicate you did it in a case or somewhere outside London.

Look at how badly polluted US rivers were before environmental protection laws:


London's nickname 'the big smoke' didn't come about through exaggeration.

While it's a contemporary financial centre, it was much more industrial; with coal-burning factories of all kinds, and shipping, the latterly diesel cranes at the docks were I believe in operation 24/7 for most of their lives.

Not sure it makes the case well, but biology and agriculture being revolutionised by a glass box has parallels.

Don't attack a field directly. Improve it by processes that help all participants.

This article reminds me of James Burke's Connections series. I'm sure it's dated by now, but worth a watch if you're bored.

Surprisingly, it's not all that dated. Some insights seem prescient, and are as applicable to 2020 as they were those 42 years ago!

Oh. Not a TV like I expected from the title. :-)

Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact