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Endangered Species—The Bottle Tree

by Shelly Kneupper Tucker on June 11, 2007©

I went gallivanting around town with my camera, through the older neighborhoods, hoping to find an example of a “bottle tree.” I had one goal in mind: I wanted to snap a picture of a really tacky looking bottle tree so that I could ridicule! You see, someone (who shall remain nameless) snubbed me once. She has a bottle tree in her yard, and I wanted to feel superior. I figured if I showed how tasteless she was, I would look better, right?

I was sorely disappointed in not finding one. Back to my computer I went, hoping to find a picture on-line to share. But, a horrible thing happened. As I was researching the history of the bottle tree, I fell in love with the idea and now I want one! I want one baaaad! Why? Well, this is the first picture I found:

bottle_tree_welty.jpg

© Eudora Welty Collection
Mississippi Department of Archives and History

It was taken by the author Eudora Welty during the 1930s when she took photographs for the Works Project Administration. I couldn’t look at that picture without wanting to know more. It seems those bottle trees that I want to razz have an interesting folk history.

bottletree.jpgSupposedly, they originated in Africa, perhaps as early as the 1700′s and came with the slaves to America. It was a tradition to hang shiny objects and bright ribbons outside of the home. The thought was that evil spirits were attracted to those objects, and it kept them outside of the home.

Often a tree was stripped of leaves near the corner of the house to be decorated with bottles. Cedar trees were preferred, because their branches pointed to heaven. But, any tree would do.

The bottle tree lore contends that evil spirits were attracted to the sparkling colors (traditionally cobalt blue was a favorite), entered the bottles and were trapped inside, especially if the neck of the bottle was greased to ease their entry. When the wind blows, the evil spirits can be heard “howling” inside. There are some who believe that bottle trees can grant wishes, others who think that the tree holds the spirits of dead ancestors, but the trapped evil is the most widely accepted viewpoint.

When I was little, I remember seeing bottle trees and wondering, “What in the world?” But no more. Bottle trees are an endangered species! Sometimes they can still be found. You can see some other examples of bottle trees in these links:

Now, I need a bottle tree. But, I don’t want an ordinary one. I can buy one fully equipped at Bottle Tree dot com. That’s not what I want. I’d love to have bottles that were given to me by friends. Anybody want to send me a bottle for my bottle tree? I’m serious! Contact me and I’ll give you my address. You can even drink all the contents first.

Do you have a bottle tree? Send me a picture or a link, if you do. I’m going to have me a bottle tree before the summer is out. Maybe it will have your bottles on it. I’ll put it in back, so the neighbors don’t scoff. And, isn’t that woman who snubbed me going to smirk?

{ 21 comments }

TeaMouse June 11, 2007 at 11:27 am

I have never, ever heard of a bottle tree. If I find any unique bottles they’ll be saved especially for you.

You could always do a really tacky one just to annoy your neighbor with the tacky mailbox…lol!

ROFLMAO! Maybe I should make a really tacky one and stick it next to that mailbox??~skt

Jessica The Rock Chick June 11, 2007 at 11:54 am

I’ve never even heard of a bottle tree, but I can totally see why you’d want one! That is very cool!!!

I think bottle trees may have vanished because bottles themselves are almost extinct!!! I used to love when Coke was in those bottles and you’d have to return the open sticky ones to the store to get your nickel deposit back….ahhhhh, the good old days!!!!

If I come across a cool bottle, I promise….it’s yours!!!

Jessica

Oh, I hope so. There’s a bottled water I sometimes get that is in a blue bottle. I could make this tree become very expensive!~skt

Marcia June 11, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Why hide it in the back? The evil spirits may have trouble finding it, or, quite the opposite: like hanging in your backyard with you so much they will invite their friends – and you know that means a bigger tree! What are you going to grease them with? Is there protocol for type of grease? If we get our dream cabin I am going to make a little bottle tree and hope the neighbors all make one, too. . . That would busy a lot of evil spirits. I will NOT procrastinate – I must have a perfect bottle for you, somewhere.

You, Shelly, are a woman of my own heart. Off to view the links. (Speaking of links, I emailed my contest entry link, just now.)

And, you are in the contest! And, I can’t WAIT to get a bottle for my tree. I’ve already been looking at one in the neighbor’s yard that would be perfect. Do y’all think they would miss it if it disappeared in the night and re-appeared nekkid in my back yard…waiting for bottles?~skt

Arkie Mama June 11, 2007 at 4:09 pm

I love that first photo — eerily beautiful.

I know, Arkie Mama! That’s why I fell in love with bottle trees!~skt

jeanie June 11, 2007 at 5:26 pm

ha ha – I grew up with bottle trees. Here is a link to the sort of bottle trees: http://www.touringaustralia.de/Trees/imgs/bottle-tree.jpg

Of course, possibly wouldn’t be as useful for warding off evil spirits – although the aboriginal people did use them to collect water from in times of drought.

Oh, Jeanie, yes I knew about those bottle trees. I started to explain those, too, but I get so darned long-winded. Thanks for that link! And I appreciate your visit.~skt

Lara Croft June 11, 2007 at 6:19 pm

I love bottle trees but never knew the history. How wonderful to know now. I will search for a bottle to send you and start collecting for myself! I need help with the evil spirits. Thank you for sharing this, so much fun – LC

I would love a bottle! I’ll get one to trade with you :lol: Then we can guard each other from evil~skt

Jen June 11, 2007 at 6:48 pm

Now this is why I blog! I had never heard of this before, will have to do some link jumping.
It brings to mind the Movie Twister (silly movie..) but wasn’t there something about outside sculptures in the movie?

Posted my eight!!

Great eight, too, BTW. I knew you were wise. Is Twister the one about the killer tornado? I didn’t see it, because I live in “Tornado Alley” and I’m paranoid. :lol:~skt

Damien June 11, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Too cool. Have you ever seen the house made of bottles at Knott’s Berry Farm?

If I have, I don’t remember it. I was there when I was a kid, and I’ve slept since then :lol: A glass house, eh? Somebody drank a lot of something! I’ll have to Google it. Google is my friend.~skt

jen June 11, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Methinks my HOA might not appreciate a bottle tree. ;-) But hey, it’s a plant even I couldn’t kill!

I don’t know, Jen, I might be able to kill one. A good Texas wind might, too :lol:! You can just send ME the bottles and live vicariously through mine~skt

Thorne June 11, 2007 at 11:46 pm

I fell in love with bottle trees as a child, some along the old Rte 66, in the ’60′s, when we used to travel to the High Desert to our weekend getaway ranch (where I live now). I’ve been wanting to add a bottle tree to my interesting yard sculptures… I may even make at leat one into a sort of bottle tree. The folklore is similar to “witches bottles”. I love those too. If I weren’t so stingy, I’d send you a bottle. Maybe we could trade bottles?? ;)

I’m not sure I know about “witches bottles.” Are they the round globes? I have a globe hanging in my office that a friend gave me a long time ago, and I think that’s what she called it. We can trade bottles. I’m not stingy :lol:~skt

amy June 12, 2007 at 3:25 am

What a cool post..LOved learning about the bottle tree..thanks

Thanks, Amy, now when you see one, you can remember its history and it won’t seem so tacky!~skt

Matty June 12, 2007 at 6:01 am

Never heard of bottle tree’s. I think it would be a bit tacky for my front yard, but good idea for the back. I know you can get interesting bottle’s cheap at 2nd-hand or thrift stores. I love the history behind it.

Yes, Matty, the history is what interests me the most. But, then I’m a little superstitious, too :lol: I couldn’t put it in the front yard, or some horrible blogger would take a picture of it and make fun of me on the internet (just like I did for my neighbor’s mailbox). It would be what I deserve, wouldn’t it?~skt

JAM June 12, 2007 at 12:08 pm

I haven’t seen a bottle tree since I was a kid in Louisiana. Great story, and that Eudora Welty pic is great.

Isn’t that fabulous? There is supposed to be a book with many of her pictures in them I have to go find it.~skt

Greg June 12, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Thank you for the link; since I shot the bottle farm in CA, I’ve run across a few examples of one or two bottle trees in brand new tourist attractions, as if they are trying to emulate the look.

But I am wondering, does anyone else remember that there used to be a lot more backlit colored bottle displays in windows? It seems every elderly woman that babysat me in the 60s had a window of deeply color-saturated bottles, as if they were sitting there to ripen.

Maybe it was a 1960s or a Midwest/Ozark thing?

Oh, Greg, I remember those bottle displays, too. I hadn’t thought about that in years. Yes, it was done in Texas. But, it may be “one of them Southern thangs.” Your pictures were fabulous! I’m so glad to have been able to link to them. “Waiting to ripen” I love that. :lol:~skt

missmeliss June 4, 2008 at 1:53 pm

So, it’s been a year almost- any luck with your bottle tree? I’m thinking of starting one this weekend.
Go, girl! I can’t get my husband to cut down the tree I want to use (it’s deader than a post, but we haven’t had time). I have bottles, I know where I want to put it…just no follow through. Hope you do better than I did!

Frigga September 18, 2008 at 10:30 am

Now I’m jealous! I want one… but I don’t even have a tree… Oh well, such as life in an apartment :)

Friggas last blog post..A Few Notes

Make one out of a plastic Christmas tree? :lol:

DW February 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Hi Bottle Trees are great, I sell some, there are endless way to create one that fits you or the spot you choose. (:

JUNE August 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I also love bottle trees. I have 2 a friend made from rebar. My first one was made with a 4×4 wood post with gutter nails stuck in it. I just took it down because some of the nails started drooping down from the wood being wet. Friends have saved bottles for me and I have bought some from a Brew Store. I love the blue and red bottles. I have green, brown and clear also. If I run across an unusual bottle that I already have, I will send it own.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker August 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

I didn’t think I liked them at first, June, but I think they are marvelous now! Every time I see one, I have to stand and stare :wink:

Stephanie October 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I started collecting bottles over the past year when my husband started working for a bulldozing service and was turning up antique bottles on his jobs. We had a great time researching the bottles and their worth. If you live or know people in a rural area. ask to hike their property or explore their creek beds. Many people long ago threw trash away in what is called gullies or branches then bulldozed it over. Bottles are easily found that way. I also heard from an old timer that they used to eat lunch on farms and leave bottles under trees so areas under and around large oak trees on farms are meccas for bottles. If you can get here. The warrenton, Texas antique show has tent after tent of colored antique bottles for sale and trade. You are n my list as we unearth more bottle treasures. :P

Shelly Kneupper Tucker October 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

You can definitely find all kinds of wonderful bottles in the old trash dumps. We found many at my grandfather’s farm. It’s almost like an archaeological dig!

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