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August 28, 2020

When pteridomania swept Britain during the 1800s it resulted in broken bones, romance and near catastrophe for one population.

‘Fern mania’ began at the end of the Georgian period – the era of botanical discovery which inspired the Broken Clock Vodka story – when amateur naturalists first began venturing into the British countryside.
118346908_652870155354078_3363424318141124475_n.jpg Suddenly people from all social classes were gripped by fern craziness, rushing into the wilderness to zealously search for the rarest fern specimens, armed with field-guide books, secateurs and trowels.

There were numerous accounts of over enthusiastic fern collectors suffering serious injuries scrambling down rockfaces or slipping into wet woodland ditches and this obsessive hobby even claimed one or two unfortunate fern hunters’ lives.

Meanwhile for less fanatical naturalists, collecting ferns was an ideal excuse for young couples to steal some time alone with one another – and for some scoundrels the pursuit was a fine opportunity to escape for some hanky panky with their mistresses.

In Victorian society it became the height of fashion to wow houseguests with special albums containing the most sought-after frond cuttings and rare spores would be bartered like prized trading cards.

Live varieties would be displayed in specially made terrariums called Wardian Cases and for the ultimate status symbol you could ask your gardener to cultivate your fern collection in specially landscaped grottos or ferneries in the grounds of your estate.

Many of these fern gardens are still going strong today, though rather ironically the wild fern itself has never quite recovered from the pillaging frenzy of fern mania, with some species plucked to extinction.

Today, Britain’s 19th century infatuation with ferns lives on in Victorian art and design, adorning fabrics, ceramics, wallpaper and even the motif on the quintessentially English custard cream biscuit; something you can easily appreciate with your afternoon tea if you look close enough – and without fear of any muddy mishaps or serious injury.