Feather trees first appeared during the Victorian era. These were sparse-branched trees most small enough to display on a tabletop. As the name implies they were originally made from feathers, goose feathers in particular. Later other materials were used but the name "feather tree" is often used to describe later artificial trees which resemble feather trees. Tabletop feather trees were often stuck into a wooden cube with a hole in it, which served as the stand.
Feather trees are a great way to display small ornaments because the ornaments are not hidden by the branches!