/ The Atlanta Traveler
Atlanta — By Linda Erbele on March 16, 2010 at 10:12 am
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Bottle Tree Tradition in the South

Have you been losing things lately? Maybe what you need is a bottle tree. In the rural South, you’ll occasionally happen upon a tree whose leaves consist entirely of colorful wine bottles. You may have thought it was simply the result of a big party the night before — but actually the bottle tree is an old custom, most probably brought here by slaves from Africa.

“People used to take a cedar tree that had died or was dying and put the bottles on the limbs,” says Bob Watt of Clarkesville, who created the red, green and white bottle tree outside the Sautee Nacoochee Community Center out of rebar and wine bottles. “The characteristic gray of the wood plays well against the bright colors of the bottles, especially when the sun hits them.”

The purpose? To beautify your yard, although that depends on your point of view of course. Originally, the idea was to catch the haints – Southern for ghosts, that is, or spirits.

“Those sparkling bits of glass attract mischievous spirits,” says Watt. “The little ones who make you forget where you put your car keys and let the milk go sour. They get down in the bottle and then they get confused and can’t figure out how to get out.”

The red and white bottle tree is Watt’s first effort, but he’s already been commissioned to create a “bottle arch” for a house that will be on upcoming tour of homes. Watt plans to change the bottle colors on his first tree to go along with the seasons.

Robert Westmacott, author of African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South, says there are few authentic bottle trees left, suggesting that original ones might be found in the coastal areas.

“Now they’re rather trendy,” he says. “They’re another piece of African-American culture adopted by whites.” So these days, what you’re seeing most often is yard-art rather than an attempt to keep the house free of bad luck.

Traditionally, blue bottles seem to be the most powerful – or most attractive to the spirits. If you’ve been mis-laying your keys a lot recently, but don’t have room for a bottle tree, you might try putting a small-necked bottle outside the door, or on the window sill.

If that doesn’t work, try slipping your key ring over the bottle neck each night.



    3 Comments

  • Megan Pasche says:

    I was just down South, and I saw a couple of these, and I was wondering about them, so I’m glad I came across this article!! I’m very intrigued by all things Southern at the moment…I heard a lot about haints on some different tours I went on while I was there. Anyway, good article! Can’t wait to read more!!

  • Christina says:

    That is so cool – I want one!

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