How to Grow Golden Alexander

Golden alexander plant with small yellow flowers clustered in starburst form

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

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The golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) is an early blooming 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 showy starburst shape of the flower heads makes an attractive feature in the dry autumn landscape.

If planting seeds, do so in spring or fall to enjoy the plant's carefree rapid growth. 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 invasive biennial wild parsnip, which it resembles in shape and form, non-invasive golden Alexander is shorter in height and with a brighter yellow hue to its flowers.

Botanical Name Zizia aurea
Common Name Golden Alexander, golden zizia 
Mature Size 1-3 ft.
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 4-9 (USDA)
Native Areas  Eastern Canada and U.S.

Golden Alexander Care

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.

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

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, overgrown urban lots, meadows, savannas, and thickets, growing alongside other pollinator-friendly wildflowers. This plant is not toxic but is sometimes confused with wild parsnip or wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace), both of which are toxic skin irritants and should be avoided.

Golden Alexander is 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. It is also fairly free of problems from pests and is also relatively deer-resistant.

Golden alexander plant with small yellow starburst flowers on thin stems and serrated leaves

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Golden alexander plant with small yellow flower clusters on stems in starburst forms

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Golden alexander plant with small yellow flowers in a starburst form closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

Golden Alexander grows best in full or partial sun. It has 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.

How to Grow Golden Alexander From Seed

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 two to three months of cold stratification to be viable for spring planting so winter sowing is best. It's also possible to plant the unstratified seeds in the fall, but there's some risk they won't germinate as effectively. Typically the plant does not bloom its first season from seed but will begin to flower its second season.