- Author: Paula Pashby
I recently took some time to relax near our Salvia garden, which comprises Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), Heatwave Glimmer Sage (Salvia microphylla), Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), and Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla). We chose these types of Salvia for their enchanting fragrance and also their high capacity to feed our vital pollinators. While I was relaxing and enjoying the fragrance and beauty of the Salvias, a carpenter bee (as seen in one of the photos) joined me, flying from flower to flower, enjoying the delicious sips of nectar that the flowers offer.
The carpenter bee has an interesting way of interacting with the Salvias, which is the reason they are often called a ‘robber bee'. It cannot access the flower from the small opening, so it bites a hole at the base of the flower to consume the nectar, bypassing the potential for moving the flowers' pollen. It is quite a sight to see!
I noticed that a carpenter bee would show up every 20 minutes or so and revisit the same flowers. This made me wonder about the flowers' nectar. Does the flower run out of nectar? If so, why does the carpenter bee return to the same flower over and over again?
So, a peaceful and relaxing moment in the garden, once again, turned into a research project. This time I set out to better understand nectar production and replenishment in flowers. Here is what I learned…
Plants have glands, called ‘nectaries', that produce and secrete the nectar. The nectar is a watery solution made up of sugars, fructose, glucose, and sucrose, and also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils. The nectar is produced to attract pollinators for the plant propagation cycle.
I found out that the nectar replenishing process will vary by flower species. Other factors also influence the nectar production cycle, such as the age of plants, seasonal and diurnal periods, and watering. Some flowers can replenish their nectar in a few minutes while others may take a full day.
I discovered that my relaxing afternoon curiosity about nectar has opened a door to a much more complex plant biology process than expected. I am just scratching the surface and look forward to seeing where this adventure lands - it likely leads to even more questions than I ever imagined.