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Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward's miniature greenhouses enabled plants to spread far beyond their native lands - and became a powerful tool for British colonisers.

Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward's miniature greenhouses made it far easier to successfully transport plants, spreading them far beyond their native lands. But that led to major consequences that Ward hadn't foreseen. Tim Harford tells the story of how glass boxes became powerful weapons in the hands of British colonisers.

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10 minutes

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A Wardian case in use at a home in Los Angeles (Credit: Annie Wells/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Sources

Three Years Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China. Robert Fortune, 1847. Spottiswoode and Shaw, London.

On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, 1842. John van Voorst, London.

The Origin of Plants: The people and plants that have shaped Britain’s garden history since the year 1000. 2001. Maggie Campbell-Culver. Transworld, London.

On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, 1842. John van Voorst, London.

The Plant Hunters. Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World. Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave. 1999. Seven Dials, London.

The Plant Hunters. Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World. Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave. 1999. Seven Dials, London.

The History of Gardens. Christopher Thacker. 1979. University of California Press

William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire.

Resor, R. R. (1977). Rubber in Brazil: Dominance and Collapse, 1876-1945. Business History Review, 51(03), 341–366. doi:10.2307/3113637

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink. Sarah Rose. 2013. Random House.

Three Years Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China. Robert Fortune, 1847. Spottiswoode and Shaw, London.

The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved the Plant Kingdom. Luke Keogh. Arnoldia, Volume 74 No 4, May 2017. Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved the Plant Kingdom. Luke Keogh. Arnoldia, Volume 74 No 4, May 2017. Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperaialism in the Nineteenth century. 1981. Daniel R. Headrick. Oxford University Press.

The Plant Hunters. Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World. Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave. 1999. Seven Dials, London.

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