Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


The Living Bottle Tree

bottle tree

Bottle Tree in November

I’m intrigued by the Southern and African tradition of making bottle trees to trap evil spirits, but living in California I don’t know much about it and I hadn’t ever seen one in person, so I was pleased to discover one in my neighborhood. It’s in front of a house with various symbols painted on the front door and the utility box, and while I was taking the pbotos a guy whizzed past me on a bicycle and said, “Careful! They’re witches!”





Felder Rushing has a great collection of photos and a short history of the practice. And there’s a massive flickr collection. Traditionally, it seems to have been done with a dead tree or with sticks stuck in the ground; Crape Myrtles are the iconic species. Nowadays many are constructed of metal or some other material, rather than an actual tree. Very few seem to be from a tree that is still alive.

The Utility Box

The Utility Box

I don’t want to mess with any witch juju, but it seems okay to show the utility box which has the same stars and moons as the front door. It never would have occurred to me to adorn a utility box. It’s surprisingly pleasing.


11 Responses to “The Living Bottle Tree”

  1. June 27th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Katie says:

    I, too, am intrigued by this. Thanks!

  2. June 27th, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    Ah, I’d been wondering about bottle trees, which keep turning up in garden blogs. That certainly explains why people would have them, though for me, it doesn’t make them any prettier…Though I do like the utility box. Now there’s a fun idea!

  3. June 28th, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Stone Art Blog says:

    Love these bottle trees, this is the first living one ive seen, very nice!

  4. June 28th, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Denise says:

    Nice to get some back story on the bottle trees. Your witch house reminds me of a sign on a garden gate I once saw: “No voodoo.” Kind of an interesting spin on the “No solicitors” sign.

  5. June 29th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    We could all use more witches in our neighborhoods if this is what they do. I haven’t followed the bottle tree link yet (but will). I remember a big subset of bottle tree photos in the images Edward Weston took in the early 1940s. Clearly we’re not the first Californians so taken with this cool tradition.

  6. June 30th, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Elephant's Eye says:

    Your link is fascinating. So the bottles should really be Haint Blue, and are a nod to the heritage of Southern slaves and the traditions of Africa. Maybe we need a bottle tree in our garden? But I couldn’t do that to a living tree. There is also a recent phenomenon of packing growing pears in a plastic form so they grow into Buddha-pears.

  7. June 30th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    ryan says:

    Thanks for the comments, glad to see people were also intrigued.
    I like the idea of a ‘No voodoo’ sign.
    We could all use some witches indeed. I think I remember the Edward Weston photos.
    I think it’s a great link too. And, thinking about it, the symbols on the door and utility box seem to support his idea that the trees fit into the European pagan tradition. I want to check on the tree for a few years to see if it has been hurt by the bottles.

  8. July 1st, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Dirty Girl Gardening says:

    Wow, very cool!

  9. July 3rd, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Brad says:

    I had never heard of nor seen a bottle tree before. Very interesting links. Thanks for the post.

  10. July 4th, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Kelly says:

    So intriguing! I didn’t know anything about this practice. “Careful, they’re witches!” Ooh, chills! Facinating! Thanks for the links too. Achoo! “Jupiter preserve you.” I’m going to use that now!

  11. July 11th, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    chuck b. says:

    Interersting! I’ve never seen a living tree done this way, and it would never have occurred to me. There’s a whole set of traditions and meanings and everything. Huh.

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