Driving around in Appalachia, you may have seen what is commonly known as a bottle tree in gardens and front yards of homes. Bottle trees are multi-colored or cobalt blue clear glass bottles placed upon branches of real trees or store-bought metal “trees.” These little yard sculptures are pretty and certainly charming, but are they merely décor?
The use of bottle trees can be traced back to 9th-century Africa, where people of the Congo would place vessels around the home in order to catch genii or other evil spirits. The practice was brought to the US South via the trans-Atlantic slave trade and eventually made its way into the Appalachian region.
The idea is that in the dark of night, malevolent spirits, known to some as “haints,” will be lured into the bottles and become trapped. It is said that if you hear moaning coming from a bottle when the wind passes through it, you know it holds a trapped spirit. Then, the spirit will be stuck until morning and destroyed by the sun! Other stories say the spirits are attracted to the colorful bottles during the day and become trapped.
Either way, the original purpose of the bottle tree was to protect the home, but nowadays, the bottle tree is usually seen more as folk art. Still, you can always wonder when you see a one shimmering in the sun if it holds something dark inside its shiny bottles.