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What is a Terrarium?

A terrarium is a glass container, or vessel, that houses plants. Terraria are open or closed, providing different growing conditions suitable for different plant species. They can offer a similar environment as a greenhouse and work well as decorative features.

What is a Terrarium?

What does a terrarium look like?

A terrarium has clear glass sides. The design makes the plants visible and allows light to enter.

Terraria come in many shapes and sizes – some look like small fish tanks or vivaria, some like glass bowls or globes, and some like old-fashioned lanterns or cloches. 

While you can purchase a terrarium, you can also make one. Old fish tanks, fish bowls, and large glass food jars are popular DIY terrarium options.

Where did the idea of a terrarium come from?

Botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward developed the first terrarium in 1842. While observing insects, he accidentally grew a fern in a jar. The terrarium was named after him and called a ‘Wardian case.’

This idea spread, and Wardian cases became popular across Victorian England and the rest of the British Isles. 

Residents sent plants to and from Australia to London using Wardian cases. For many decades after, Wardian cases were used to ship plants from around the British Empire back to Kew Gardens for display. 

Types of Terrarium

There are two types of terrariums: open and closed:

1. Open Terrarium

An open terrarium is open at the top and doesn’t have a lid. It provides an airy, well-ventilated, and drier environment for plants

Succulents and plants that prefer an arid environment do well in open terrariums. 

2. Closed Terrarium

A closed terrarium is sealed, with a lid, door,  or cork, allowing access to the plants.

Closed terrariums create a self-sustaining ecosystem. As plants transpire, water from their leaves condenses on the container’s glass. The water then drips down into the growing medium, allowing the plants to reabsorb it. 

Moss, orchids, ferns, and tropical air plants are ideal for closed terraria. The closed terrarium provides a controlled, humid environment, allowing these plants to thrive.

Due to the moisture build-up, and possible mold issues, closed terraria are more challenging to maintain than open terraria, but plants in them are self-sustaining and require less care.