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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Gentle Giant for Pollinator Week

To help celebrate Pollinator Week I am republishing this post from 2015 on Eastern Carpenter Bees/Xylocopa virginica. I've added a few details and refreshed some photos. I hope you enjoy it! xoxogail 

There's probably no other bee that arouses irritation quite like this gentle giant. Just search "carpenter bee" and you will get hundreds, if not thousands of "results" and almost all are about how to get rid of them.

They're very cool critters and I love them even though they have tunneled into my front porch deck and my carport stained posts. We had the porch painted and they don't like it! They continue to nest in our stained carport wood.

Robbing a Penstemon

Five interesting facts about this gentle giant.

1. These big beautiful, noisy bees are excellent pollinators. In fact, they are being studied across the globe for pollinating green house crops like passionflower, blueberries, greenhouse tomatoes and greenhouse melons.

2. They are generalist foragers and are known to pollinate garden crops and garden plants. Like eggplant (Solanum melongena), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) and other species in that genus, cucurbits (Cucurbita spp.), cassias (Cassia spp.), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), cigar orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica), and wild lupine (Lupinus perennis).

3. They are buzz pollinators - meaning they use vibrations, or sonication, to release pollen grains from the flower's anthers. To release pollen carpenter bees are able to grab onto the flower and move their flight muscles rapidly, causing the flower and anthers to vibrate, dislodging pollen. About 8% of the flowers of the world are primarily pollinated using buzz pollination. Wildflower gardeners~all Dodecatheon are buzz pollinated! Eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries and cranberries are also buzz pollinated.

4. They typically visit flowers that have large, open-faces with abundant nectar and pollen; bloom during the day; are pale or saturated in color; have a fresh odor; anthers specialized for pollen collection by bees; and corollas with strong walls.

5. They are nectar robbers and cheat the pollination process by breaking open the sides of flowers, like salvias and penstemons to get at the nectar! 

Bonus info. The menacing/dive bombing carpenter bee you encounter is only protecting a nest. It's a male drone and he's all buzz and no sting!

Happy Pollinator Week where ever you garden!xoxogail

PS In case you need a reminder! Please, never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides in your garden. The pollinators will thank you by taking up residence and pollinating your fruits, vegetables and flowers!

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 commend you for alerting others about carpenter bees, all I see at our farmer's market are folks selling the bee traps to kill them; if only folks knew that if we have no pollinators we would not have any food. And they are very gentle they only hoover in front of you if you invade their space but do nothing other than that.

  2. Those rascals bite the sides of Hosta flowers too. The hummingbirds then take advantage of those holes too. I love watching them.

    1. Oh good! I love finding out this about hummers!

  3. I know about the nectar robbing! They bite through the ends of my Monarda flowers and suck up the nectar that is arguably intended for the long-tongued bees. Still, they look like the panda bears of the bee world.


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