Just in case you’ve never heard of a bottle tree, I’m about to remedy that. It isn’t your fault if you aren’t from the South. That’s just an accident of birth.
First of all, yes, a bottle tree is a dead tree with empty wine bottles stuck onto its branches. Preferably blue bottles. But, you can use any color you like. Even clear, if you must. It’s up to you. There are no rules.
So, what are they all about? Bottle trees are said to trap evil spirits in the night, which are then vaporized by the light of day.
Bottle trees have been called, “the poor man’s stained glass,” and every yard or garden ought to have one just because they’re so whimsical that you’ll smile to yourself whenever you look at it. Plus, when someone asks (and believe me, they will), “What is that?” you will get a chuckle. Of course, they’ll probably just look at you like you’ve got a screw loose.
However, you’ll be perpetuating a tradition which has its roots in antiquity.
Bottle trees used to be essentially Southern in nature, but you’re likely to see one anywhere, especially considering that now you can order one online, solar-lit colored bottles and all. But that’s just cheating, in my humble opinion. It just isn’t the same as creating your very own, one-of-a-kind, multi-hued masterpiece, one bottle at a time.
Traditionally, a crape myrtle or cedar tree is gussied up, but any tree or a 4”x4” with dowels in holes drilled at an angle will work. Anything remotely tree-shaped is fair game. Even a re-purposed metal coat rack.
Okay, so here’s where it gets really interesting. Who on Earth thought this up, and why are people still making these?
The first part is fairly easy to explain. Sort of. The short version is that Central Africans believed that the bottles would trap evil spirits and the blue bottles were particularly powerful. Thus, when people from this region came to America, most notably the southern states, the tradition took root.
But, actually, using bottles to trap evil spirits, or djinns, came from Arabian folklore, as in Aladdin and the magic lamp.
And, considering that glass bottles date from 1600 B.C., odds are that some sort of superstition surrounding bottles began around the same time. It isn’t tough to imagine the wind blowing across the mouth of one, and the intellect of the time could’ve thought there was some unseen entity the bottle, crying to get out.
However this tradition began, it’s a creative way to add some year-round color to your landscape, even if all you have is a balcony. Aside from confounding passersby, what’s not to like?