Misselthwaite Manor
May 21, 2019 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Latimer originally planted his bottle garden in 1960, sealed it, and let it sit — for twelve years. In 1972, thinking the plant may be a bit too dry after all of those years, he “put in about a quarter of a pint of water.” Then, he resealed the bottle — and it’s remained sealed to this day. [via Kottke]
posted by Chrysostom (35 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
The plant pictured is the creation of a David Latimer, a retired electrical engineer (also pictured).

It would have been so great if they had gone with The plant pictured is the creation of a David Latimer, a retired electrical engineer (left).

This is really cool and slightly creepy. I have to assume there is a thriving microscopic civilization in there that is just starting to ask itself "What is beyond The Wall?"
posted by Rock Steady at 12:21 PM on May 21 [16 favorites]


Ted Sturgeon's "Microscosmic God" coming to mind there.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:26 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


Ten points for your post title.
posted by dywypi at 12:32 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


> Ten points for your post title.

I would have gone with something about Kandor, but I'm deeply uncultured.
posted by Leon at 12:37 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


alright I'll bite

what's Latimer charging for rent
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:41 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


I could still kill it with my black thumb of doom.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:43 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


I have two! Haven't kept them sealed for that long, but they really don't need any maintenance.
posted by agregoli at 12:50 PM on May 21


Reminds me of a mossarium (see Jessamyn's Mossarium Emporium). I have one happily alive sealed up for a couple of years now in an old pickle jar.
posted by exogenous at 12:54 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


It makes me think that, if we built some kind of giant wheel space station, humans maybe could survive away from earth. We'd have to be much more diligent about controlling the population though. That one in Arizona didn't work very well though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:57 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I just brought a bunch of spiderwort cuttings into the office yesterday for any coworkers who want an easy houseplant for their desk. A really sweet coworker came up to me today somewhat scared of whether or not he'd be able to take care of such a thing. I reassured him that it was easy and he'd do fine. He messaged me later to say that he'd looked up a bunch of YouTube videos at lunch and feels like he can handle it (and that he think that's it's already grown a bunch under his care this afternoon). I think I'll send him this tomorrow. Dream big, my friend!
posted by iamkimiam at 1:14 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


I just thought about these things today! We have two enormous wine bottles left over from our wedding and wondered if this could work. What do you think - would green glass stop it from working?
posted by twirlypen at 1:27 PM on May 21


I also got a massive spam link on the first click, so here's Kottke's write up
posted by The River Ivel at 1:31 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


My wife used to have one of these; unfortunately during one move, the bottle got cracked and that was the end of it.
posted by nubs at 1:41 PM on May 21


From the links at the end:
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/13/399348948/clear-fruit-brandies-pack-an-orchard-into-a-bottle


Just the perfect time of year to be alerted to this possibility! Looking forward to devising methods of securing glass bottles to trees.
posted by sophrontic at 1:51 PM on May 21


My kid brought home a biology project that was some plants in an airtight clear plastic box. It once had insects, but she didn't expect them to survive long. I set it in a window, and two years later, it is still thriving, and hasn't been opened. Now I have an explanation!
posted by Miss Cellania at 1:58 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


[I edited the post to swapped out the original link to the full David's Garden site, since it seems to be giving people malicious redirect behavior, for the Kottke link. The original link is available in the kottke post if people want to take their chances. Also deleted a few comments in thread to avoid confusion for newer readers]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:59 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


We tried something like this in my ninth grade biology class. We were all tasked with filling large glass jars with soil, water, plants, living creatures if we could get some (crayfish from a local creek, tiny fish native to said creek, etc.) and such, and placing it under lamps that were designed to produce the desired effect for several months.

Some months later, the twenty-odd jars of algae-ridden sludge (yes, even the eventual valedictorian's) were quietly disposed of in an unmarked dumpster.
posted by delfin at 2:18 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


I wonder how this will evolve over time, if it's kept this way for centuries. Will the seeds get bigger or smaller? How about the leaves and stems? Will sexual or clonal reproduction be preferred?
posted by clawsoon at 4:32 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Bee'sWing: It makes me think that, if we built some kind of giant wheel space station, humans maybe could survive away from earth.

I'd rather send up just some plants. Seems more likely to succeed.
posted by clawsoon at 4:37 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I would really like to see pictures of the bottle every 5 years or 10 years or something to see how it changes!
posted by Secretariat at 5:47 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


> I'd rather send up just some plants.

Maybe with three robots.
posted by Leon at 6:07 PM on May 21 [11 favorites]


Ted Sturgeon's "Microscosmic God" coming to mind there.

Let's hope he's not creating vegetal Sandkings.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:57 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


It's a very successful terrarium, a not-uncommon Biology project.
posted by Rash at 10:53 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah a time-lapse would be really neat. I am curious how dynamic the internal ecosystem really is. Do whole plants grow and die and decompose? Or is it essentially in some sort of equilibrium, where certain species have taken over and reached some growth-limits and are just idling there?

Also I wonder how many times you'd have to try to make a similar bottle garden to get the same successful results. Every time I've tried the sealed terrarium thing, it's been a mess of microorganic (mold, fungus) growth and death for any more complex organisms in a few weeks at the most. Perhaps there's some minimum physical size? I've always tried in smaller bottles, like 2-3 L PET soda bottles.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Every time I've tried the sealed terrarium thing, it's been a mess of microorganic (mold, fungus) growth and death for any more complex organisms in a few weeks at the most.

This is kind of the backstory behind the Wandering Earth, where small ecosystems are too fragile to survive thousands of years in space. Even The Expanse gets into this idea - a big biochemical imbalance (decomposition of a large number of dead organisms at once) can set off a cascade of failures with positive feedback loops that inevitably ends with your entire habitat turning into a big vat of mold, especially if it's at a scale beyond your ability to influence - it's simultaneously too large for you to actively manage (changing the water in a fish tank) yet too small to be robust against major disasters.

If you want to build an ecosystem supporting simple mold for a thousand years you probably could do it, even do it inadvertently, but if you want a robust ecosystem that will last a thousand years and support complex life like animals and humans you'd need a very large biosphere. Hence the kooky story that rather than build an earth-sized spaceship, it's easier to just turn earth into a spaceship...
posted by xdvesper at 12:11 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The Kottke site and the "Now you know" site linked therein both seem to have stolen the photos and other content from the original Daily Mail article from January 2013.
posted by Umami Dearest at 12:19 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


He was concerned about his world in the early 70s so made a minor adjustment and now all is well?
posted by fullerine at 1:38 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Really recommend Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora for an engaging account of just how difficult it would be to sustain a colonization ship's biome for the centuries it would take to reach a (hopefully) livable planet. (Super difficult)
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:18 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I've been working on a science fiction novel based on the notion that it's impossible to sustain a closed small-scale ecosystem long enough to transport a meaningful subset of a species to a new location where, presumably, they'd set up an open large-scale ecosystem. My narrator species, which can travel long distances (no FTL) by encysting hibernation but not set up a sustainable ecosystem at the other end, serves as historians and archivists for a galaxy full of dead generation ships inspired by the seeming promise of a beautiful lush world in a jar.
posted by sonascope at 4:48 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Where did he get such a big bottle? That thing is torso-sized!
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:10 AM on May 22


Every time I've tried the sealed terrarium thing, it's been a mess of microorganic (mold, fungus) growth and death for any more complex organisms in a few weeks at the most.

I've got a feeling it's a lot easier with just plants. Instinctively I feel that the moment you add something that'll feed on the plants it'll reproduce until it kills the plants, and itself. So you need to add a predator to make sure that doesn't happen, and keeping a population of predators alive is going to take waaay more floorspace.

Where did he get such a big bottle?

A carboy I think. Try ebay.
posted by Leon at 5:27 AM on May 22


This is a lovely story, but mostly, I'm envious of that giant, pretty bottle.
posted by xingcat at 5:58 AM on May 22


I'd call it more of a demijohn than a carboy. It is pretty.
posted by exogenous at 6:54 AM on May 22


It makes me think that, if we built some kind of giant wheel space station, humans maybe could survive away from earth. We'd have to be much more diligent about controlling the population though.

The station would be diligent about controlling the population regardless.
posted by CaseyB at 1:59 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


It's an old-fashioned acid carboy - they used to be pretty easy to find but there are fewer around less nowadays (I think acid is now shipped in plastic). I was interested to see that the plant is spiderwort, because that is definitely one of those house-plants that you can't kill with a hammer. Every abandoned greenhouse I've ever seen (see later post) has had a bunch of spiderwort growing under the staging.

unfortunately during one move, the bottle got cracked and that was the end of it.
My late father had one of these in a bottle which had been broken and had a large hole in the back. He put electrical tape around the edges of the hole and planted it up from the back, arranging it so that the larger plants covered the hole, then pretended it was a proper bottle garden. Since a proper bottle garden has to be planted through the neck, using small tools attached to sticks, this made it a lot easier.
posted by Fuchsoid at 4:02 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


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