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  • Ellen Mary

Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Excite the senses; Expand the mind.

I figured I couldn’t get a more tropical feeling in the Florida Keys than a visit to a butterfly garden! I have a fascination with butterflies anyway, so it was always going to be on the list, but one of the many benefits of writing about gardens and nature means I get tours and to meet inspirational people all around the world. So off I wandered to meet George Fernandez, one of the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory owners.

At first look, the shop is full of preserved butterflies in pressure treated frames and all kinds of butterfly paraphernalia to take home. All very bright and colourful and definitely geared to the tourist, but amongst all of that, the point is a serious one which I found out immediately as George guided me around the conservatory. Before I tell you about my tour, I want to tell you about George.

Immediately friendly, obviously passionate, incredibly knowledgeable, George and his Partner run the conservatory complimenting each others skills and have done so for many years. George is softly spoken yet clear and eloquent and welcomed me with open arms, to which I am forever grateful.

Starting in the educational area, large glass stands are home to host plants with Caterpillars on show and the walls are full of information on butterfly species, butterflies around the world and details on migration. The world map was host to butterfly cut outs in the region they are from - much fewer in Europe than South America thats for sure! Mainly due to climate of course.

We discussed the Monarch butterfly in detail and its extraordinary flight path across the US, made possible by a band of Milkweed which is now threatened due to farming with insecticides. The message that Butterflies are vital to pollination couldn’t be stronger than in this situation as numbers have vastly reduced due to the declining Milkweed available to them. Their journey is remarkable and I later found this fantastic YouTube video that shows you just how amazing they are. Have a watch HERE.

As we wandered through the conservatory, Butterflies were all around us, I could feel the air from their wings by my ears. George says he has seen butterflies land on Tibetan Monks and stay with them for their whole tour, something he is sure to do with good energy. He says they seem to rest on good people, so I stood a while waiting…but I obviously wasn't sweet enough!

Many species can be found from the Swallowtail to the Morpho and the gorgeous Madagascan Sunset Moth . It’s worth me mentioning the Morpho some more. Firstly they are blue - well they look blue to our eye. You will know there isn't really many true blues in nature. Secondly, they are the blue emoji on your iPhone…so afterwards I had a legitimate reason for using the emoji in excess. Morpho’s shimmer and shine their way around the conservatory, tending to stick to the same flight path - or so I found whilst trying to get a photo of one. It was worth the wait, as I captured a slow mo of two having fun which you can watch HERE. Afterwards George showed me a video of how it would appear that the Morpho is blue, it’s totally fascinating and can be seen HERE. Nature truly is amazing.

In the art room, all of the preserved butterflies are labelled and stored, then carefully made into pieces of art. I got to both touch the Morpho’s blue shimmery wings leaving a smudge of blue glitter on my fingers.

If we can inspire people and especially children to learn about nature and the plight of the butterfly we may be able to ensure species are not eradicated forever and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory does just that. It’s bright, colourful and fun yet with an important, educational message and everyone inside was smiling in awe and enjoying it so much. I hope they each left with the excitement to do something at home for butterflies to enjoy.

If you want to get just a tiny idea of what it is like inside, there is a webcam you can access HERE and to see more photos of my visit take a look HERE.

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