By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Yard after yard, in the front of Gullah homes, variations of beautifully colored bottle trees dot the neighborhood. Today, it’s considered a Sea Island decoration that symbolizes good luck and a bountiful harvest or garden.  The use of bottle trees, however, is another spiritual Gullah tradition with African roots that dates back centuries. Originally created by capping the end of  crape-myrtle tree branches with bottles, the tree was especially significant to slaves dating as far back to the Old Testament, symbolic of freedom. 

The bottles, which are mostly a rich cobalt blue, which can also be tied on, are meant to capture evil spirits prior to entering one’s home. The haints or spirits, who travel in the night, once captured, become stuck in the bottles.  If wind blew across the bottles causing it to hum, it is believed that it was from a spirit’s efforts to escape by swirling within the bottles. With the rising of the morning sun, the captured spirits would be destroyed. 

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