Bottle tree art is a southern tradition that goes back to ancient Egypt. African slaves carried the bottle tree tradition to Europe and North America in the 17th century.
Many African tribes and communities believed that the talents of the dead could be stolen or could escape from graves. Bottles placed around the gravesite captured the good talents and kept them safe and trapped evil spirits.
That belief came with the slave trade to the American south when enslaved Africans placed bottles in trees around their slave quarters to keep evil slave owners away.
Interesting side note, the Victorians incorporated the same idea with witch’s balls placed inside their homes. Witch’s balls look like Christmas ornaments and were added to the base of marble top tables, hung, or placed on stands.
Though the superstition has been all but completely lost over time, bottle trees are now entrenched in yard art.
Blue bottles are most often seen. Originally Milk of Magnesia bottles, which were blue, were used. They’re too hard to find these days. Most folks settle for blue wine bottles.
The blue color is important because it is believed to discourage the haints. That’s southern speak for ghosts. A special shade of blue called “haint blue” is used on southern porch ceilings to ward off evil spirits and stinging insects.
Whether you believe all the hocus pocus folklore, bottle trees make an interesting piece of yard art. If you don’t want to use a live tree, you can find lots of iron trees at garden shows and plant nurseries or make one yourself.