The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 9, 2014

Small worlds: Terrariums are easy-to-make miniature ecosystems

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — At her family's kitchen table on a bitterly cold January morning, 18-year-old Madeline White was busy bringing a bit of the outside in: She was crafting a vivarium.

Or, more accurately, a terrarium.

"I think they're so cool; a wonderful example of an ecosystem you can bring into your house when outside it is so cold and dismal," White said as she added first five or six small rocks, then a few handfuls of aquarium gravel, to a tall glass jar.

Within minutes, she had transformed the jar into the kind of place garden fairies might call "home."

A vivarium -- Latin for "place of life" -- is a small-scale, enclosed area in which plants, or even small animals, may be kept for observation. A terrarium is one type of vivarium, created to replicate a temperate woodland habitat using real elements of such a habitat such as soil, moss and ferns.

White, the daughter of Baxter Springs resident Amber Tyree and a music and theater major at Wichita State University, made many of them during her holiday break.

"I wanted one so badly for Christmas, and my mom gave me what I needed to create one," she said. "We did it as a mother-daughter activity on Christmas Eve."

After their first attempt, making them has become a family thing, White said.

"My sisters, Bridget (a high-school freshman) and Kate (a sixth-grader), at first didn't really want to, but once they saw how neat they are they got into it and they make them, too."

The girls use natural items they find in their yard and the yards of friends, along with tiny inexpensive crafting items purchased at stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michael's.

"We use a lot of trial and error," White said. "You can't really make a mistake. Once you put one together, you can always move something or change it according to what looks good to you."

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