Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, July 11, 2016

The nectar robbers are at it again.

Carpenter bees are notorious nectar robbers. That big body makes it hard to fit into many flowers and they will drill or cut into the corolla of a plant to get at the nectar. It looks like the stinkers are getting nectar without a pollen transfer which messes with the mutualism that one expects with pollination.

Today, as I watched a beautiful carpenter bee work its way around the flowers of  Phlox 'Jeane', I wondered if the nectar of that flower could be depleted and what effect that might have on pollination and other visitors?
I wondered what affect this would have on pollination

So I did a little research.

It was always assumed that nectar robbers had a negative impact on the plants that they visited, but that is not necessarily true. The authors of a paper published in the Ecological Society of America Oct 2000 examined the last 50+ years of research on this subject and concluded that nectar robbing could have a beneficial or neutral effect. Here's what they said, "The effects of nectar robbers are complex and depend, in part, on the identity of the robber, the identity of the legitimate pollinator, how much nectar the robbers remove, and the variety of floral resources available in the environment." If you want to read more follow my highlighted link above.
Carpenter bee zeroing in on the nectar machine P paniculata 'Jeana'

I have no idea what effect nectar robbing will actually have on P paniculata 'Jeana'. She is after all a nectar machine! Last summer she was covered with Swallowtail butterflies, skippers, hummingbird moths and bees for almost 6 weeks.

I am hoping that a little nectar robbing now doesn't rob me of the pleasure of watching all her pollinator visitors the rest of this summer!


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I can't imagine that it would be terribly detrimental to a flower. I watch these big bees drilling into host blooms to get to the nectar. Then the hummingbirds come right behind them and use those holes to more easily get the remaining nectar. They seem to share and there seems to be plenty for all who sip.

  2. there is a little pollen on that carpenter bee. Perhaps it is enough?

  3. What beautiful photos. I am paying particular attention to pollinators in the new garden we are planting.

  4. How fun to do a little research on the effects of nectar robbers. And lucky us to be able to learn about it through your blog. :) It's fascinating to watch the process!

  5. I'm glad to hear that they are not really doing much harm. The carpenter bees rob the nectar from my sunset hyssop all the time, not being able to get down into those tubes. You know, the tubes I planted for hummingbirds! I must admit that I haven't seen that many hummers on them as I had hoped, and often feared that there was no nectar left for them?

  6. I've never seen many pollinators on my garden phlox (white David, blue Blue Boy and pink Eva Cullum, but I've heard that Jeana does a great job attracting pollinators, so if I ever try P. paniculata again, I'd give her a whirl.

    But I don't think I've ever found the ideal spot for P. paniculata in my garden. As I understand it, it likes to be in a moist, sunny spot with good air circulation, and that magical combo does not exist in my landscape.

    Yours looks lovely though!

    And I did see a carpenter bee committing similar larceny this morning on a Scutellaria!

  7. Very interesting. I think it was a carpenter bee I saw on my coneflowers the other day. If so, they don't seem to be doing any harm, because I have tons of coneflowers come up every spring, and plenty of other pollinators visiting them.

  8. Wow..!
    I could say that it's a great photography.The pictures attracts me so much.I am paying particular attention to plant pollinators in my new garden. Thanks for sharing the post and pictures.

  9. I would have thought that any disturbance of the flower would give it a little shake and might help with pollination. Fortunately, the phlox is abundantly floriferous! I'm happy to have carpenter bees drop by. All bees in the bumble category are great pollinators for my tomatoes, which require a little shake at exactly the frequency of the wingbeat from a large bee. Or so I've heard. Lovely to see you, as always, Gail!

  10. WOW! Simply gorgeous, love those yellow flowers

  11. I have just returned from a trip to New York and saw the Eastern Carpenter Bee for the first time in my life. They robbed nectar from Salvias and other plants. I always thought only bumblebees would do that, but on the other hand I have no carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea that is) around in Germany to verify that.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson