The bottle tree ‘Ampulla arborii’ can be found in quite a few gardens around the lowcountry of South Carolina. We have 2 planted at Cypress Gardens, one near the parking lot and the other in the wildflower meadow. This central African plant is cherished by the well cultivated gardener. The bottle tree like many other common southern garden plants may have come to us though the slave trade along with black-eyed peas, field peas, okra, and watermelon. Traditionally bottle trees were planted in the yard to capture troublesome spirits before they entered the house. It is said curious spirits or “haints” will enter the bottles and get stuck inside thus preventing them from causing mischief. Since we planted our bottle trees we have had no trouble with the haints.
‘Ampulla arborii’ is such an easy plant to grow I wonder why more people don’t plant them. It is true they can be hard to find, but it helps if you have friends who drink plenty white wine. Bottle trees will live in almost any kind of soil and can be planted in sun or shade. They are extremely drought and flood tolerant but will not withstand hurricanes. The trees are almost maintenance free requiring no fertilizer or pruning. Cleaning bottles once a year with Windex and paper towels is all that is needed to keep your tree looking healthy.
Although there are many different cultivars of bottle trees the most popular is the Blue Bottle Tree, ‘Ampulla arborii caeruleus’. In Africa, blue is considered a powerfully good color because it is the color of the sky and water. Blue bottle trees are said to be the best for capturing spirits. Good companion plants are yellow daffodils for spring and coreopsis or marigolds for summer. Yellow flowers planted around blue bottle trees make the blue color pop in the garden. If you are looking for a unique specimen plant in your garden give the blue bottle tree a try.