Why Choosing Nectar-Rich Plants for a Garden Is So Important

Nectar is the secret sauce for boosting biodiversity and increasing the number of beneficial interactions in the ecosystems around us.

Hummingbird at desert flowers
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The nectar produced by flowering plants is an important food source for many creatures with whom we share our space. And those of us who want to attract wildlife to our gardens are well aware that we should have flowering plants in bloom over as much of the year as possible.

Choosing plants that are nectar-rich can also be a good strategy because it can help us to provide for insects and other pollinators and predatory insects where we live. And ultimately, help us to provide for ourselves and our families too.

Nectar & Nectar-Rich Plants

Borage flowers close up (Borago officinalis)
Borage flowers (Borago officinalis). naturaltexture / Getty Images

In the interactions between plants and animals and the mutualistic, symbiotic relationships many have evolved with one another, we can begin to see the interconnected complexity of life. Nectar lies at the very heart of many of these plant-animal relationships.

Plants have evolved to produce nectar to attract pollinators that feed upon the nectar and assist in pollination by brushing against the reproductive parts of a flower and picking up or depositing pollen to complete the fertilization process. In return, the pollinators receive a source of energy from the sugar-rich nectar they consume.

Nectaries are typically present in the flowers of plant species that are pollinated by wildlife and are typically absent in those plants that are wind pollinated and therefore do not need to attract wildlife for pollination.

Sometimes, nectar is also produced by plants to attract insects that protect a plant from being eaten. In these cases, nectaries may not always be within a flower. Another function of nectar can be to protect against pathogens, and in some plants, certain proteins have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

By recognizing the relationships that have evolved between plants and animals surrounding nectar, we can gain more insight into the wonders of nature, and of course, appreciate the roles that we ourselves can play in enabling a greater number of beneficial interactions.

Some plants produce greater quantities of nectar than others, while in some, nectar in their nectaries is replenished more quickly. Some provide both of these benefits to wildlife that feeds on this sugary substance. Borage (Borago officinalis) is one example. The nectaries on borage refill far more quickly than those of many other species, meaning that there is more nectar to go around.

Why Plant Nectar-Rich Species?

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By planting nectar-rich species of plant in our gardens and trying to include nectar-rich plants to provide for as many different pollinator species as possible, we can increase the number of beneficial interactions in the ecosystems around us and boost biodiversity.

And when we increase the number of beneficial interactions within a system, we increase the resilience and stability of the system as a whole.

By making sure that we have nectar-rich plant species present throughout the year, we can aid many pollinator populations that are threatened by human activity and climate change, and help to halt biodiversity losses.

In food-producing gardens, drawing in native pollinators will allow us to ensure that we obtain the fruits, berries, and other insect-pollinated foods we require and desire, making sure that pollination takes place without a hitch.

Depending on which nectar-rich species we plant, we can potentially attract pollinators such as (depending on where we live) a range of different bee species, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies and moths, mosquitoes and flies, hummingbirds, honeyeaters and bats, all of which are among the common nectar-consuming pollinators.

In an organic garden, attracting predatory creatures to keep pest numbers down is also very important. And some predatory insects also use nectar as a primary food source. Predatory wasps, hoverflies and lacewings are a few examples.

Choosing Nectar-Rich Plants

When choosing nectar-rich plants for your garden, it is always a good idea to look first at species that are native to your area. Research flowers that are native to where you live and which should thrive in your garden, and you are sure to find plenty of nectar-rich plants to consider.