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Frighteningly fun and wickedly interesting nature at Red Butte Garden

By Heather Tuttle

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 8 2013 3:37 p.m. MDT

Children learn about insects at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

They creep, they crawl, they slither, they bite

Your heart may pound with all of its might.

A nibble, a taste, a prick of your finger

Eat the wrong thing and not long will you linger.

Be bold, be brave, be full of wonder

Soon your fears will be laid asunder.

Nestled in the foothills of Salt Lake City at the tip of the University of Utah campus is a magical place with stories to tell. Stories of hissing cockroaches, pink toe tarantulas, Roman soldiers, temporary blindness and even murder!

Afraid? Intrigued? Itching to know more?

Then let yourself be lured onto the grounds of Red Butte Garden. The staff and volunteers there realize that elements of nature can be frightening and wicked, but also full of fascinating folklore and not so scary after all, if we know more about what we might encounter.

Each year, Red Butte offers summer camps for kids K-6 and lectures for anyone interested in understanding more about their environment. Two upcoming events fill this bill quite nicely. “Face Your Fears,” a five-day camp for third- and fourth-graders, and “Wicked Plants,” a lecture/garden tour open to anyone.

Face your fears

Contrary to the name, kids won’t be doing anything scary. Instead they will learn about the habits and habitats of things like spiders, snakes and scorpians by working with models. The kids will classify each type of creature by their body parts and characteristics. They will learn to move like snakes and build a giant spider web out of yarn, then for added fun, they’ll capture their prey (beanie babies) in the web.

“Face Your Fears” runs July 29-Aug. 2. Time: 9 a.m.-noon. Registration closes one week prior. Cost: $130. Garden members: $105

Wicked Plants

On Aug. 8, the Evening Exploration Tour will focus on the darker side of plants we think we know well. You may be surprised to learn that the seemingly innocent daffodil bulb was carried by Roman soldiers into battle just in case they were mortally wounded. The bulb has narcotic properties that would help numb the soldier’s pain and hasten their death.

In ancient times, the sap of the Dragon Tree was used for embalming in the Canary Islands. The sap of the Pencil cactus can cause temporary blindness if it gets in your eyes, and corn — eaten in abundance —can cause a leprosy-like syndrome called pellagra, meaning “rough skin.” One symptom of pellagra is a sensitivity to light. Some believe it was this — not garlic — that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

And murders? Oh, there are so many plant-related murders. But you will have to attend the lecture by Red Butte botanist Eddy Dawson to hear those tantalizing tales.

Wicked Plants garden tour is limited to 20 participants. Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Cost: garden admission; members get in free. For more information about the activities at Red Butte Garden log on to www.redbuttegarden.org

SOURCES: Red Butte Garden; history.nih.gov; www .britannica.com; jacksonvillezoo.com; national geographic.com

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