Blue Bottle Trees
There’s more to this garden art than beauty
A drive through America’s old south will lead you to encounter a tradition kept alive through our Gullah friends. Bottle trees are placed in the yards of many a southerner, but their roots date back deeply into African culture.
Traditionally, bottle trees are cobalt blue. The bottles were placed on the branches of dead trees or rods that were stuck into the ground. These trees have been made in the south for hundreds of years. The folklore of the bottle tree is very interesting. According to stories passed down through generations, the bottles were hung upside down to entice the curiosity of evil spirits. Drawn by the rich, cobalt color, the spirits would enter the bottles and become trapped. The evil spirits would be destroyed when the sun rose the following morning. If a bottle hums when the wind blows, you know there’s an evil spirit trapped inside.
The folk-art legend of the bottle tree began in the Congo during the ninth century. Blue bottles were hung upside down on trees and huts as talismans to ward off evil spirits. Bottles were also tied to trees near important locations such as meeting places or crossroads to trap any spirits that were travelling. The tradition found its way to America when slave trade began in the 17th century. Slaves would place bottles on crepe myrtle trees. This could possibly be tied to the Bible’s Old Testament mention of the tree representing freedom and escape from slavery.
Cobalt blue is the most popular and traditional color for bottle trees. It is believed that this rich color has healing powers. The color has also been associated with ghosts and spirits. Glass bottles have also been placed in windows and used as “poor man’s stained glass”. Colored bottles have also been used traditionally to line flower beds. Today bottle trees can be seen across the south in a multitude of bright colors.
Hollow glass bottles were made as early as 1600 B.C. in Egypt and Mesopotamia. People soon began to believe that spirits could live in the bottles. One possible reason could be due to the sound created when wind passes over the mouth of a bottle.