Between 1837 and 1914, Pteridomania, or fern madness, swept through Britain and, later, the United States. Coupled with the rise of the amateur gardener and naturalist in the nineteenth century, hundreds of books and articles encouraged a popular fascination with ferns. This resulted in widespread collection and cultivation of the plant.
Ferns are one of the oldest forms of life still thriving; fern fossils have been found dating back 360 million years, although the majority of most modern species only date back to the Cretaceous period (145 million years ago). To the Victorian populace, ferns encapsulated the mystery and majesty of another era. Lectures were given on fern history and the differences in both form and color of the multitude of obtainable varieties for cultivation. These talks were often concluded with expert-led “fern-hunting” parties, comprised of a group of pteridomaniacs trouncing through English hills and lanes, searching for particularly rare or beautiful fern specimens.
As the craze intensified, fern patterns and motifs appeared on fabric, embroidery, cast iron, and pottery. Women wore gowns decorated with ferns, exchanged pressed ferns, and collected illustrations of ferns torn from the pages of scientific volumes. The Wardian case was invented in 1829 by a physician to protect his ferns from the air pollution of London, and soon became a staple in stylish households, along with outdoor ferneries.
Fern mania reached American shores as well, although with a little less intensity. Turn of the century greenhouse ferneries were established in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago, and other cities.
From E.J. Lowe’s Our Native Ferns; or a History of the British Species and Their Varieties. Chromolithographs, published by Groombridge and Sons, London, 1865-67. See all available E. J. Lowe fern prints here.
From Anne Pratt’s The Flowering Plants, Sedges and Ferns of Great Britain. Chromolithographs, published by Frederick Warne & Co., London, c. 1865-75. Engraved by W. Dickes. See all Anne Pratt fern prints here.
From Daniel Cady Eaton’s Ferns of the United States of America. Chromolithographs published by Armstrong & Co. Lith., Boston, 1879. After watercolors by C. E. Faxon and J. H. Emerton. Eaton was a Yale botany professor who founded the Peabody Museum Herbarium. See all our Eaton fern prints here.