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An illuminating experience; 2nd annual light show to dazzle Botanical Gardens visitors

Inside the Botanical Gardens, colorful fireflies appear to flutter about whimsically among air plants typically found high above the rain forest floor.

They seem to sparkle in the enchanted darkness at House 11, with a musical soundscape adding a peaceful and soothing effect.

The illusion is created with laser lights.

"It makes you feel like a kid, no matter what age you are, like there's a million little bugs everywhere. Little Tinkerbells," said Erin Grajek, the Buffalo & Erie County's Botanical Gardens' marketing director.

The second annual "Night Lights at the Gardens" takes place Wednesday through Feb. 18 on Wednesdays through Saturdays. The addition of laser lights is one of the theatrical and interactive surprises in store, as the lights interact with some of the Botanical Gardens' 22,000-plant collection, 30-foot waterfall and tri-domed Victorian glass house.

More than 4,500 attended the three-week light show in 2011.

Under the 67-foot-high dome in the main Palm Room, children can flip a switch to change the colorscapes, choosing from four elements. With fire, all colors go red, flicker like a fire, and fire noises are heard; for water, the lights turn to blue, with gurgling sounds.

"It's really fun working here. The architecture -- the unique shapes of the domes -- just lends itself so well to capturing light and laser beams," said Doug Sitler of SitlerHQ, who works with Steve French of Volt Vision.

"From what I understand, no other botanical gardens is doing something like this."

The lighting designers also own and operate Night Lights at the Heron in Chautauqua County.

Kids will also be able to pound on a drum, letting the sounds reverberate around the room.

This year will also see professional music performances and artwork. Lazlo Hollyfeld will perform Friday, John & Mary will be featured Feb. 10, and the Gahu Drum Ensemble will appear Feb. 17.

There will also be sculptures by Zach Boehler, Mark Griffis and Tyler Griffis, and photography from last year's show by John M. Grovac, Arnold Abira and Chris Chrispodosek.

Grajek said she's expecting the popular transformation of the Botanical Gardens to again serve as a "winter oasis."

"It's 72 degrees and humid in here, and colorful and green and beautiful. It's not muddy and brown and windy," Grajek said.

"Night Lights at the Gardens" runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for members, seniors and students, and $5 for kids 3 to 12.

The Orchid Show will be next on tap at the Botanical Gardens, on Feb. 25 and 26.

email: msommer@buffnews.com