Poor man’s stained glass
By MG Calla Victoria
Bottle trees are becoming increasingly popular as ornamentation in gardens all over America. Sometimes called “poor man’s stained glass” or “garden earrings,” these glistening tall glass and metal sculptures add lots of bling to any garden decor. Although a fabulous addition to any landscape, bottle trees are not a new concept. In fact they originated a very long time ago during the ninth century in the African Congo. The central Africans tribes believed that evil spirits could be captured in bottles, so they placed glass bottles dangling from twine or stuck on top of sticks near their homes to trap the evils spirits that prowl during the night. When the sun came out the next day it created extreme heat in the glass bottles thus burning up the evil spirits. Also bottle tree altars were a way for the Africans to honor deceased relatives. You may remember seeing bottles dangling from trees in the movie “Ray” and stuck on dead tree branches in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou.”
With the colonization of America, the bottle tree tradition traveled along with enslaved Africans to America’s Deep South. The slaves placed bottles on crepe myrtle trees, as myrtle trees are referred to in the Old Testament as being associated with the Hebrew slaves getting their freedom. Although much of the folklore is long forgotten or that some considered it a pagan ritual, bottle trees are on the rise. Some cleaver person has even come up with a botanical name for the whimsical bottle tree, it is called Silica transparencii (for “clear glass).
If you are interested in adding a bottle tree to your garden you can find them at most upscale garden centers and online, or you can make your own. To construct a bottle tree you can use any color bottles, but cobalt blue is the most desired color in the folklore tradition because the blues of the water and sky places the bottle tree at the crossroads of heaven and earth. Also blue is said to be the most calming color. You can use any size bottle however longer necked bottles have less chance of blowing off the branches. The bottles are placed upside down with the neck facing the trunk of the tree. There are many how-to videos on bottle tree construction online as well. Most gardening centers sell bottle trees constructed from rebar to make the metal tree branches, but long branches of dead trees work just fine.
This article ran in Data News Weekly's April 26, 2014
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