How to Grow Golden Alexander

Bright yellow flowers is circular groupings form a larger yellow bloom combining several branching stems
The bright yellow blooms of Golden Alexander attract pollinators to the garden.

Andrew Block / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) is a native wildflower found across eastern North America. Its unusual botanical name is inspired by the German botanist Johann Baptist Ziz, who discovered it.

This short-lived perennial belongs to the carrot family and has the look of a meadow wildflower, much like Queen Anne's Lace, also a wild carrot. It has well-formed branches with sturdy stems and serrated green leaves and bears a bright yellow flower attractive to birds and butterflies from May to June. The starburst shape of the flower heads makes an attractive feature in the dry autumn landscape.

In late summer it forms oblong-shaped green fruit capsules which gradually turn purple as autumn approaches, as do the stems and leaves.

Not to be confused with the biennial wild parsnip, which it resembles in shape and form, golden alexander is shorter in height and with a brighter yellow hue to its flowers.

It is native to parts of Canada including Quebec and Saskatchewan, and the New England States, and along the Atlantic Coast as far south as Florida.

Despite being a self-pollinating plant, the golden alexander provides beneficial food to pollinators, specifically the black swallowtail butterfly and the woodland swallowtail butterfly. The caterpillar forms of these butterflies can cause damage in vegetable gardens, as they enjoy chomping on plants and herbs including parsley dill, fennel, and carrot tops. Planting some golden alexander can help attract these caterpillars early in the season if they tend to be a problem in gardens.

Other pollinating insects attracted to golden alexander include various bees, wasps, beetles, and flies, who prefer flat-headed flowers because their shorter mouthparts make it harder for them to sip nectar as, say, hummingbirds do.

In most cases, this plant is not intentionally propagated, as it occurs naturally as a native perennial and naturalizes readily in suitable conditions. It's a desirable plant for helping conserve meadows and wetlands, and for general habitat rehabilitation, and it may be commercially available from nurseries that specialize in native plants.

Botanical Name Zizia aurea
Common Name Golden alexander, golden zizia 
Mature Size 1 to 3 feet
Sun Exposure Part sun to shade 
Soil Type Sandy or sandy-clay soils
Soil pH  Neutral to slightly acidic
Bloom Time Late spring
Flower Color  Yellow
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9, USA
Native Areas  Eastern Canada and US
Toxicity  Not toxic
Tiny yellow buds atop green plant with serrated leaves in woodland setting
Golden alexanders thrive in moist woodland areas in partial sun, as well as sunny fields Tom Potterfield / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Golden Alexander Care

This plant enjoys somewhat moist growing conditions, such as a boggy meadow or alongside a pond, but it's also fairly drought tolerant during a hot summer in its native habitats.

It's most often found on the edges of forests, in power line clearings, abandoned fields or overgrown urban lots, meadows, savannas, and thickets, growing alongside other pollinator-friendly wildflowers.

It's a hardy perennial and not difficult to naturalize once it's established. It tends to form small colonies, with the fibrous roots forming a dense cluster.

Light

Golden alexander grows best in full or partial sun. They have been known to also survive under light shade tree canopies.

Soil

Golden alexander likes a somewhat rich neutral soil with good drainage but can still do well in sandy or clay soils, or in areas with a lot of limestone where the soil is slightly, but not too, acidic.

Water

Although golden alexander prefers consistent moisture (often growing naturally in boggy sites), it can also handle dry conditions surprisingly well. For best results, making sure your plants are kept consistently moist during the growing season is a good idea.

Is Golden Alexander Toxic?

The plant is not toxic but is sometimes confused with wild parsnip or wild carrot (aka Queen Anne's Lace). Both of these can be toxic skin irritants, possibly causing severe skin dermatitis with a blistering rash, and should be avoided.

Propagating Golden Alexander

Growing golden alexander from seed is rather difficult as these plants are not widely available commercially. You may be lucky in finding seeds from a specialist native plant nursery.

You could gather the seeds in the wild to plant, but care should be taken not to disturb or deplete the growing area. They also need a period of cold stratification to be viable for spring planting. It's also possible to plant the unstratified seeds in the fall, but there's some risk they won't germinate as effectively.

Common Pests/Diseases

Golden alexander is fairly free of problems from pests and is also relatively deer resistant. Most of the pollinators it attracts are not considered invasive or problematic, and, in fact, golden alexander might help lure some hungry insects away from your herb garden.