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A nectar source is a flowering plant that produces nectar as part of its reproductive strategy. These plants create nectar, which attract pollinating insects and sometimes other animals such as birds.
Nectar source plants are important for beekeeping, as well as in agriculture and horticulture. Their use is particularly important for organic agriculture and organic horticulture, where they serve not only to attract pollinators for crops, but also provide habitat for beneficial insects and other animals that provide pest control.
Nectar sources for honey bees
While many plants produce nectar, beekeepers prefer to place their hives near certain plants, rather than others, for the qualities of the honey produced. Certain agricultural crops, such as clover and buckwheat, are used to make specific honeys.
Some plants are avoided by beekeepers due to toxins found in the nectar. For example, honey made from the nectar of Rhododendrons ("mad honey") contains neurotoxic chemicals. Nectar is a pesticide.
Nectar sources for pollinators
Pollinating insects, including honey bees and many other insects, are a necessary element when growing most crops (though cereal grain crops are wind-pollinated). By maintaining a constant supply of nectar in areas adjacent to a field or vegetable garden throughout the growing season, farmers and gardeners ensure that their crops can be pollinated when they flower.
Nectar sources for beneficial insects
Particularly organic horticulture and organic farming, nectar sources are maintained to attract and maintain a population of beneficial insects. Insects such as predatory wasps, hoverflies and lacewings feed on nectar as adults, while their larval forms are predatory and feed on garden pests.
Nectar sources for butterflies and hummingbirds
In gardens, the presence of butterflies and hummingbirds is often encouraged. Butterflies are attracted by most good nectar sources, though there are particular plants they seem to prefer. Certain plants are also grown as a food source for their caterpillars.
Hummingbirds feed on tubular flowers, using their long, siphoning beaks. Many plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, are used to attract hummingbirds.