23 07, 2018

Bottle Tree – A Southern Tradition

By |2018-07-22T21:55:49-05:00July 23rd, 2018|Writer's Life|0 Comments

“A bottle tree?” Visitors ask when they spot the rebar creation in my flowerbed.

I explain people have been creating these “trees” in Southern states for hundreds of years.

Appalachian folklore says empty glass bottles placed outside near the home can capture roving (usually evil) spirits at night.

Sunlight the next day then destroys the spirit inside or the bottles can be corked then thrown into the river to wash away the evil spirits.

Some hold African slaves carried the bottle tree tradition to Europe and North America in the 17th century when slave trade began. Eudora Welty used this idea in her short story about a slave named Livvie.

She 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.

Felder Rushing, a southern gardener, believes the tradition goes back much further in history to ancient Egypt. You can read his account here.

Originally, bottles were hung on the bare limbs of Crape Myrtles, a tradition thought to be connected to the myrtle tree’s significance to slaves in the Bible. The crepe myrtle tree appears as a reoccurring image representing freedom and escape from slavery in the Old Testament.

Interesting side note here is that Victorians adapted the bottle tree idea into hollow witch’s balls they placed inside their homes.

Bottle trees also appear in Hoodoo folk magic. Practitioners believe spirits remain among the living for generations and, when captured in the bottles, provide protective powers. Hoodoo bottle trees use only blue bottles to attract ancestral spirits.

The most prized bottle trees today are those with milk-of-magnesia bottles. Since those bottles aren’t produced anymore and the ones you find in flea markets and antiques shops are pricey, most folks settle for blue wine bottles.

Remember the Southern blue porch ceilings. It’s something about the color blue and its ability to discourage the “haints” that attracts us southerners.

Whether you believe all the hocus pocus folklore or not, you will find bottle trees in gardens and yards throughout the United States. If an actual tree isn’t available, you can find numerous styles of iron trees at garden shows and nursery showrooms.

I love my bottle tree! It blooms all year and brightens my garden. And just maybe, it helps keep the haints away.

Want to learn more bottle trees? Check out these sites:



21 05, 2018

Discouraging carpenter bees and evil spirits

By |2018-05-02T10:09:07-05:00May 21st, 2018|A Writer's Life|0 Comments

carpenter bee

We noticed lots of bees when we bought our house in the spring last year. Having never seen them before, the large black bodies hovering near our faces was scary. Beekeeper Brian assured us male carpenter bees were not aggressive and did not have stingers, but females would protect their nests.

Reminded us of the bears in Colorado. We had the same situation when bears came to visit every spring and fall. Bears were looking for food after a long hibernation in spring and bulking up for winter in the fall. Bees come looking for mates and a home.

We kept food sources secured in the spring and summer and the bears would visit and move on. Discouraging carpenter bees is not so easy.

Before we moved in, we had the house professionally treated, which meant sealing all the bored holes in the porch ceiling, eaves, and siding. Unlike termites, the bees don’t eat the wood they bore tunnels. Those tunnels weaken eaves, window trim, fascia boards, siding, wooden shakes, decks, and outdoor furniture. Not something a homeowner wants to happen.

We also painted the ceiling of our wrap-around porch blue after sealing fresh bee holes last fall.

Why blue? Two reasons. (1) Carpenter bees don’t like painted surfaces and (2) a blue ceiling is a southern tradition.

We didn’t use just any shade of blue. You used a specific shade of Haint blue, a soft blue green to ward off evil spirits called “haints,” a specific type of ghost or evil spirit from the Carolina coast, but also found in tales from various regions of the south.

So not only are we discouraging bees, we’re keeping evil spirits away. Always a good thing.

Our bee population this spring decreased dramatically. But a few are persistent about returning to their previous abodes.

Beekeeper Brian made carpenter bee catchers for us. Those seem to be doing an excellent job.

The one over the garage door is catching the most bees. You can see we failed to paint the garage eaves.

In the fall, we’ll seal the new holes so the bees can’t winter over in them and paint the eaves blue to discourage the bees from returning next spring.

We’ll never be completely free of carpenter bees. They are great pollinators so we wouldn’t want to be, but we do want to discourage them from destroying our house.

They’re welcome to visit, not live here.

Go to Top