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Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania

Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania
Sarah Whittingham
Frances Lincoln
Publication Date: 

cloth, 256 pp., $60.00

British historian Sarah Whittingham recalls a gardening craze that struck society in the nineteenth century in this beautifully, heavily illustrated book, filled with archival evidence. “Before the 1830s there was virtually no interest in collecting or cultivating native ferns.” She submits that it was not until amateur botanists understood the method of their reproduction and culture under glass (the so-called Wardian cases) that professionals and the general public became centered on the collection of ferns. Pteridomania,“fern madness,” struck the public with a mighty force. Plant authorities and the public found that this vegetation exemplified the favored qualities of the Victorian period—elegance and delicate form. Amateurs went on fern hunts and plant nurseries specialized in unusual varieties in order to fulfill burgeoning interests in the hobby. By the end of the century, like other fashions, the fascination with ferns and related memorabilia had dwindled and so concluded a rampant passion.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden