In 1960, David Latimer set up a terrarium. Back then, bottle gardens were a fad, and he wanted to see what would happen if you corked the bottle. He used a 10 gallon carboy, which was a type of round glass bottle with a short narrow neck. He filled the bottom with dirt and compost and then he used a wire to plant four species of plants. After watering the plants, he corked the bottle and placed it in a sunny spot in his house.
Of the original four plants, only the spiderworts survived – and they are thriving, even though he hasn’t watered them since 1971. Back then, Nixon was President, and our current President was in grade school.
Latimer had created a closed ecosystem in which the plants did not obtain any nutrients, water or oxygen from outside the bottle. The spiderworts got everything they needed through photosynthesis. Plants can absorb energy from sunlight and convert it into energy and water. They also “breathe” after a fashion. While animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, plants do the opposite.
Many bacteria are also aerobic (oxygen-breathers), and they use the oxygen produced by the plants. They also break down dead plants for food and produce carbon dioxide. Thus the plants got all the carbon dioxide they needed.
Plants lose water through their leaves and absorb it through their roots. The lost water would become vapor and would then condense back into liquid. In other words, it “rains” inside the bottle.
Youtube provides a number of tutorials on replicating Latimer’s terrarium. Bottle gardens of his type need a large curved glass container that can be either open or closed. The gardener will need to put in a layer of rocks or pebbles about an inch thick at the bottom to provide drainage. Charcoal can be added to prevent mold or bacteria from growing. The terrarium should then be filled about a third of the way with soil. After lightly spraying the soil with water, the gardener adds the plant or plants. They then add more water and put the bottle garden somewhere sunny.