Nectar is derived from Latin nectar, the favored drink of the gods, which in turn is the Latinized version of Greek νέκταρ, néktar, presumed to be a compound of the PIE roots nek-, "death", and -tar, "overcoming", i.e. has a similar etymology to ambrosia, the immortality-conferring food of the gods. The earliest recorded use of its current meaning, "sweet liquid in flowers," was in AD 1609.
- b : something delicious to drink
- c : a beverage of fruit juice and pulp <apricot nectar>
- 2: a sweet liquid that is secreted by the nectaries of a plant and is the chief raw material of honey
Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants. It is produced in glands called nectaries, either within the flowers in which it attracts pollinating animals, or by extrafloral nectaries which provide a nutrient source to animal mutualists, which in turn provide anti-herbivore protection. Common nectar-consuming pollinators include bees, butterflies and moths, hummingbirds and bats.
Nectar is an ecologically important item, the sugar source for honey. It is also useful in agriculture and horticulture because the adult stages of some predatory insects feed on nectar such as almost all solitary wasps. In turn, these wasps then hunt agricultural pest insects as food for their young. For example, thread-waisted wasps (genus Ammophila) are known for hunting caterpillars that are destructive to crops.
Although its main ingredient is natural sugar (i.e., sucrose (table sugar), glucose, and fructose), nectar is a brew of many chemicals. For example, the Nicotiana attenuata, a tobacco plant native to the US state of Utah, uses several volatile aromas to attract pollinating birds and moths. The strongest such aroma is benzyl acetone, but the plant also adds bitter nicotine, which is less aromatic and therefore may not be detected by the bird until after taking a drink. Researchers speculate the purpose of this addition is to drive the bird away after only a sip, motivating it to visit other plants to fill its hunger, and therefore maximizing the pollination efficiency gained by the plant for a minimum nectar output. Neurotoxins such as aesculin are present in some nectars such as that of the California Buckeye. All twenty of the normal amino acids found in protein have been identified in various nectars, with alanine, arginine, serine, proline, glycine, isoleucine, threonine, and valine being the most prevalent.