Arts & Entertainment

Bottle trees: A bit of magic in the yard

Bottle trees on Ocracoke NC

One of several trees decorated with blue bottles in Merle and Donald Davis’s yard.

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Text and photos by Connie Leinbach

If you’re touring around the island and have a sharp eye, you might spot empty wine bottles on metal armatures or on trees in islanders’ yards.

Some sport bottles of varying colors, but more are created with blue bottles.

Renowned island storyteller Donald Davis has the low-down.

“They catch the evil spirits, but only the blue ones are legitimate,” he says.

That’s because the evil spirits can’t see blue.

Blue is a new color in human cognition, he said.

“In the Pictish culture, they coated themselves in blue because evil spirits couldn’t see blue,” he explains.  The Picts were a tribal confederation of peoples who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and early Medieval periods.

Thus, the evil spirits cannot see the blue bottles; they go into them and—voila!–are captured.

“When you deal with superstitions, you have to do it right,” Davis says.

He said the bottle trees trace back to African culture, and even further back into to Egyptian culture. 

A blog post by Smithsonian Gardens offers more about the history of bottle trees hereas does this blog post at the Appalachian History website here.

A bottle tree in Martha and Ron Faulkner’s yard.

Bottle trees are mostly a Southern thing.

“Up North, people keep their evil spirits,” Davis says.

The trees in Davis’s own yard are festooned with arguably the most blue bottles on the island.

“Sometimes when Merle (his wife) washes them, they break and she lets (the evil spirits out),” he says, which gives the couple the opportunity to hunt for more bottles—unusual ones—in antiques shops.

When he was a child, Davis saw his first all-blue bottle tree in his grandmother’s yard in the mountains.

“They were Milk of Magnesia bottles,” he says. “Now we just have to drink wine out of blue bottles.”

To make your own, bottles can be placed on tree branches or tree chandeliers are available at Ocracoke Garden Center.

A bottle tree along Trent Road.

Cindy Fiore did a variation on the theme in her yard.

A colorful bottle tree in Nathan and Amy Spencer’s yard.

 

2 replies »

  1. I also have a story to tell about the Bottle trees.back in the early days our Settlers would use old Cedar trees to dry their canning jars and containers. They would wash their containers in their spring houses than turn their jars and containers upside down on the old cedar pines to dry and purify in the sunlit. This bottle trees.