Fern Fever

By Amy Weiss

Apr 2 2019

During the 19th century, a severe case of “fern fever” swept over Victorians on both side of the Atlantic. Symptoms included wrangling over unpronounceable names of species, the use of fern motifs on everything, frequent fern-hunting trips, and a desire to collect them all. Pteridomania was at its height between 1850 and 1890.

A number of factors came together to create such a mania:

-Discovery of a reliable method of raising ferns from spores
-The invention of the Wardian case, the earliest glass terrarium, which allowed ferns to be cultivated in polluted city air and for live fern specimens to be shipped around the world
-Growth of the British Empire allowed for plant exploration and exploitation in distant locations for both science & cultivation
-Natural history (in general) was an obsession in upper/middle classes of Victorian Britain
-In 1837, the publication of the first book on British ferns in almost 50 years: An Analysis of the British Ferns and their Allies by George William Francis (this was followed by many more publications on ferns) 
-In 1845, repeal of the excise duties on glass in England, making Wardian cases, glass greenhouses, and conservatories much cheaper
-Widespread use of ornaments derived from nature in design and architecture

More about: Ferns


Allen, D. E. 1969. The Victorian fern craze: A history of pteridomania. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Boyd, P. D. A. 2002. Pteridomania - The Victorian passion for ferns. Available at: http://www.peterboyd.com/pteridomania.htm (Accessed: 25 Jan 2019). 

Nikolaidou, D. 2016. How the Victorian fern-hunting craze led to adventure, romance, and crime. Atlas Obscura. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-the-victorian-fern-hunting-craze-led-to-adventure-romance-and-crime (Accessed: 25 January 2019). 

Whittingham, S. 2009. The Victorian fern craze. Oxford: Shire Publications.