Visual Arts

New bottle tree blossoms at the Arboretum

The "blue bottle tree" near the rose garden at the Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky on Alumni Dr. in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Folks with the Arboretum placed the blue bottles on the tree last week and has become a popular attraction.  Charles Bertram | Staff
The "blue bottle tree" near the rose garden at the Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky on Alumni Dr. in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Folks with the Arboretum placed the blue bottles on the tree last week and has become a popular attraction. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Amid all the brightly blooming plants at the Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky this spring, one of the hottest attractions is a tree that isn't even alive.

Staffers put up a new "bottle tree" at the Arboretum about a week ago, and it's already proving popular with visitors, Arboretum director Marcia Farris said.

"We had a bottle tree several years ago that was very popular, and people have kept asking us what happened to it," she said. "So we decided it was time for a new one. And it really does look nice when the morning sun shines through it."

A bottle tree is a small, dead tree that has been stripped of leaves and small branches and decorated with brightly colored glass bottles.

Bottle trees are a Southern folk tradition, thought to have originated in Africa. Supposedly, a bottle tree protected its owner's home by trapping evil spirits that were lured into the brightly colored bottles and then burned away when the morning sun came up.

Bottle trees originally were homemade, but commercial versions are sold today at garden centers and in seed catalogs.

To make its new bottle tree, the Arboretum used a small bur oak that was being removed from a University of Kentucky agricultural farm, Farris said. The 12-foot tree was moved to the Arboretum, where Jamie Dockery, Fayette County extension agent for horticulture, carefully pruned it and attached bright-blue bottles.

Dockery said some bottles were left over from the Arboretum's earlier bottle tree. Others came from various sources, mainly Talon Winery. The blue color scheme was not accidental.

"You know, we think UK blue is important," Farris said. "I have read that in the Southern tradition, bottle trees were placed near the front door to protect the home. But today, it's just a way to have some fun with gardening, and we think it's kind of neat."

The Arboretum's earlier bottle tree, built on a small dogwood, had to be dismantled because its limbs had deteriorated to the point that they could no longer support the weight of the bottles.

The new one, however, should be around for people to enjoy for a long time, Dockery said.

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