For its Christmas display this year, the University's Botanic Garden is looking to Mexico for inspiration.

Instead of the usual Nordmann's Spruce, the flower spike of the Agave sisalana that went through the Glasshouse roof earlier this year has been recycled to make an unusual Christmas tree.

It was over one year ago that Botanic Garden staff first noticed the developing flower spike of the Agave sisalana in the Succulent House. It grew at such a rapid rate that by mid-December 2000, the spike was 3.25 metres and had broken through the glass roof. The flower spike eventually reached 6.6 metres and flowered through the summer.

The flower spike is the perfect shape for a Christmas tree and has been decorated with dried chillies, slices of orange, and pressed Liquidambar leaves, all of which grow abundantly in the Agave's native Mexico.

A festival called La Rama, which runs from 16-23 December in Veracruz, Mexico, was the inspiration for the display. During La Rama, children decorate an agave flower spike with fruits, tinsel, Spanish moss and silver stars. They then carry the ornamented 'tree' from house to house and sing songs in the hopes of receiving an aguinaldo, or treat, such as an orange, apple or sugar cane. As with many traditions in Mexico, La Rama was an extension of an ancient Aztec ritual which celebrated the rebirth of nature.

The Agave Christmas tree has been set in a landscape of other Mexican plants, including another festive favourite, the Poinsettia. The botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, but it is commonly called the Christmas Star, and in its Mexican homeland is known as the 'nochebuena', the word for Christmas Eve.

The nochebuena's greatest promoter was Joel Poinsett who was the US ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico. He loved Mexico and especially the nochebuena. One Christmas, he sent plants back to his mansion in Charlestonville, South Carolina, and upon his return home several years later he was astonished to find the entire town growing the nochebuena or 'poinsettia'.

The Mexican-inspired Christmas display will be in the Conservatory of the Glasshouse Range until the New Year.

The Garden is open from 10 am daily (please note that the Garden is closed from 25 December to 1 January inclusive).

Entry is by the Bateman Street and Station Road Gates on weekdays but only by the Bateman Street Gate on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

An admission charge is made on weekdays from 1 March to 31 October, and on all weekends and Bank Holidays throughout the year. Admission is free for children under five. Disabled visitors and companions are admitted free.

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