Photos by Kelsey and Scott Walters
Lukas Nursery and Butterfly Encounter
Coming out of quarantine and heading straight into hurricane season can make Florida feel like a real downer these days. As Floridians take it all into stride, it’s nice to know that it’s not all gloom and doom. It’s also peak butterfly season!
Butterflies like it hot, so our state offers the perfect weather for their flight. As summer heats up, so does their activity. Think of them as little solar-powered beings, that thrive in 80-degree temps or higher.
At Lukas Nursery, a 4,000-square-foot butterfly conservatory, you are offered a chance to view them up close and be surrounded by fluttering wings. The butterfly encounter is open year-round, but your best chance to see the most butterflies take flight is from April through September on warm and sunny days.
Keep in mind though that the conservatory is enclosed, like a large multi-roomed greenhouse. So, if the butterflies are warm, you will be, too – so dress accordingly. It houses only butterflies bred in captivity, no wild-caught insects can be found here. Butterfly farmers have a higher survival rate and help prevent butterfly habitat destruction.
The entrance to the encounter is a gift shop, where you can find dozens of butterfly-themed gifts and artwork to make your heart flutter. Here, you can also purchase butterflies to take home and release. There are a few species available, and they are all native Floridians, so thankfully you won’t be releasing any invaders.
The butterflies aren’t the only thing soaring within the encounter. It’s also home to a number of small exotic finches and button quail. The quail like to nest in the mulch just off the walking path, so be sure to watch your step. They resemble small, feathery potatoes waddling about. A small exhibit also features growing caterpillars to help learn about the life cycle of the butterfly.
Butterfly Feeding Experience at Lukas Nursery
The best part of this experience (and most exciting for the younger guests) is the chance to feed the butterflies. A smaller room of the enclosure houses native Florida butterflies that are surprisingly easy going. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not allow handling of non-native butterflies, to prevent the spread of foreign diseases to the native insects, so this is an experience you can only get in a few facilities.
All you have to do is dip your finger into a cup of juice (a very tasty butterfly treat) and wait patiently while they climb onto your finger. Once there, they will sit and eat their little buggy hearts out. This was a thrilling experience for our toddler, Avery, who has only seen backyard butterflies whizz by. If you’re looking for some hands-on education for little ones, this is a great place to show them what they’ve been learning about in real life.
What Will I Find at Lukas Nursery and Butterfly Encounter?
The Lukas grounds aren’t just about butterflies, they are also home to a sprawling nursery that has been serving Florida families and businesses for over 100 years. There is even an entire section dedicated to butterfly-attracting plants, so you can create your own butterfly experience right at home. There is a butterfly garden guide available on their website with a list of various flowers, vines, shrubs and trees that supply the sugary nectar the butterflies need, or you can ask someone at the nursery for help selecting your host plants.
Whether you’re in the market for plants and gardening supplies or not, the nursery is a beautiful stroll to add to your visit. Bursting with colorful blooms, it’s like visiting a beautifully manicured garden – where everything’s for sale. There are also some hilarious statues hidden throughout the grounds that put your basic garden gnome to shame, including Big Foot, several dinosaurs and of course, giant butterflies.
Lukas Nursery and Butterfly Encounter
Hours and Admission:
Open daily 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (last admission at 3:30 p.m.)
Admission to Butterfly Encounter: $6/person; (3 and under are free)