According to TheBottleTreeMan, bottle trees came to the United States through African slaves. He states that bottle trees served a religious and spiritual purpose.
The bottle tree is based on the belief that the shiny, colored glass can attract and then trap the evil spirits. It is a beautiful addition to any garden. The colorful glass adorning the “limbs” will catch the light of the sun and will display a dazzling light show.
Felder Rushing, though, believes bottle trees come from earlier times and more northern climes.
I must have heard about bottle trees from Eudora Welty’s short story, “Livvie”, because it mentions both bottle trees and swept yards in the same passage. I distinctly remember reading about those two Southern traditions when I was about in 8th grade. The idea fascinated me.
Out front was a clean dirt yard with every vestige of grass patiently uprooted and the ground scarred in deep whorls from the strike of Livvie’s broom. Rose bushes with tiny blood-red roses blooming every month grew in threes on either side of the steps. On one side was a peach tree, on the other a pomegranate.
Then coming around up the path from the deep cut of the Natchez Trace below was a line of bare crape-myrtle trees with every branch of them ending in a colored bottle, green or blue.
There was no word that fell from Solomon’s lips to say what they were for, but Livvie knew that there could be a spell put in trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house – by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again.
Solomon had made the bottle trees with his own hands over the nine years, in labor amounting to about a tree a year, and without a sign that he had any uneasiness in his heart, for he took as much pride in his precautions against spirits coming in the house as he took in the house, and sometimes in the sun the bottle trees looked prettier than the house did…
In any case, I fell in love with bottle trees and swept yards.
When I asked my grandmother about bottle trees, she remembered them as being plentiful when she was a child. One grandmother told me that bottle trees brought good luck; the other grandmother told me that they captured evil spirits and bad thoughts. I’d never seen one.
Now they’re popping up as folk art in suburban yards as yard art. I’ll be capturing their images to live on. I hope you find them as lovely as I do.