Glass terrariums, also known as Wardian cases, were discovered accidentally when Dr. Nathanial Bagshaw Ward was looking for a way to safely transport plants over long distances. These cases completely enclosed the plant and shielded it from the elements, making it the perfect way to grow orchids. These delicate, beautiful flowers can thrive under the right conditions and a terrarium is a good way to achieve this.
Types of Orchids
Choosing the right type of orchids depends on the size of the terrarium and should be based around matching the conditions inside the terrarium to those the plants need. Miniature orchids are well suited to life in a terrarium, not only because of their small size but because of their lowlight and high-humidity requirements. These types of orchids are also called twig epiphytes; an epiphyte is a plant that does not require soil to grow. The dracula, aerangis, masdevallia and leptotes are all options. Miniature versions of other types of orchids exist, and some of the most eye-catching of terrarium orchids are those that don't have the typical, extravagant flowers. Jewel orchids are grown more for their distinctive foliage than for their flowers and make ideal candidates for terrarium growing.
Almost any sealed glass container can be made into a terrarium, but those that are easiest to work with have a large opening. Fish tanks can be used, along with decorative glass jars or even those that were designed to be more functional, used for canning vegetables and preserves. Orchids require air movement, so a small fan to set into the terrarium is necessary to keep the air from getting stagnant. You can put other plants into the terrarium with the orchid. Low-lying plants such as ivy and moss will thrive in the same conditions and not take away from the orchid. These plants -- along with jewel orchids -- will require soil to grow in, but the base for an epiphyte orchid can be more decorative. Driftwood or soapstone can form an attractive base, and there may be other options in the fish department of a pet store.
To maintain the optimum conditions inside the terrarium, be sure that the top does not seal fully. A small vent space will allow the fan to circulate fresh air, while still keeping the humidity high inside. This also helps keep condensation from forming on the inside of the glass. The orchid requires bright light, so placement of the terrarium can be one of the most important factors in determining the success or failure of the orchid inside. Most miniature orchids require less light than their full-size cousins, so positioning the terrarium in a window will usually provide enough light. Only water about every four days, and the terrarium should only require a light, misting spray. Overfertilizing can easily burn the plants inside, so a strongly diluted fertiliser applied once a month in a small quantity -- based on the fertiliser and the size of the terrarium -- is usually enough.
Benefits of a Terrarium
Most orchids have very specific conditions that they can grow under. In most temperate zones, orchids need to grow in a greenhouse or indoors under these specific conditions. A terrarium creates a miniature ecosystem in which it is easier to control factors like temperature, humidity and sunlight. It will also keep pests and disease away from the delicate plants, and using distilled or bottled water prevents pollution from affecting the plants as well.
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