The golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) is an early-blooming native wildflower found across eastern North America. This short-lived perennial belongs to the carrot family and has the look of a meadow wildflower, much like Queen Anne's lace, which is also a wild carrot. It has well-formed branches with sturdy stems and serrated green leaves and bears a bright yellow flat-topped flower umbel attractive to birds and butterflies from during its May to June bloom time. The showy starburst shape of the tiny flowers makes an attractive feature in the landscape.
If planting seeds, do so in spring, fall, or even early winter to enjoy the plant's carefree rapid growth and height of 1 to 2 feet. In late summer it forms oblong-shaped green fruit capsules which gradually turn purple as autumn approaches, as do the stems and leaves.
|Common Name||Golden Alexander, golden zizia|
|Botanical Name||Zizia aurea|
|Mature Size||1-2 ft. tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, clay|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||3-8 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||North America|
Golden Alexander Care
Pollinating insects attracted to golden Alexander include various butterflies, 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. 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.
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 is native to parts of Canada including Quebec and Saskatchewan, the New England States, and along the Atlantic Coast as far south as Florida. 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.
Golden Alexander grows best in full or partial sun. It has been known to also survive under light shade tree canopies.
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.
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.
Temperature and Humidity
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.
Fertilization is unnecessary for wildflowers such as golden Alexander. Adding fertilizer may make wildflowers leggy and weedy.
How to Grow Golden Alexander From Seed
In most cases, this plant is not intentionally propagated, as it occurs naturally as a native perennial and naturalizes readily in suitable conditions. 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. Clip off seed heads in the late summer and early fall when you see them.
The seeds 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 in its first season from seed but will begin to flower in its second season.
Potting and Repotting Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander makes an attractive addition to a container garden. The plant's medium texture can be balanced with finer and coarser textured plants surrounding it in a pot. Plant in any type of container with drainage holes and filled with fresh potting soil.
Simply cut back golden Alexander to just above its crown in the fall before the winter. This can be done if planted in a pot or ground. Golden Alexander will revive itself in the springtime.
Aphids seem to be the only insects that bother golden Alexander plants but they can be sprayed off with water. However, because these plants tend to bolt with reduced summer foliage, it doesn't attract problems.
Is golden Alexander a perennial or annual?
Golden Alexander is a hardy perennial and not difficult to naturalize once it's established.
How can I tell the difference between golden Alexander and wild parsnip?
Golden Alexander is not toxic, but it is sometimes confused with both wild parsnip and wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace), both of which are toxic skin irritants to be avoided. Golden Alexander resembles the invasive biennial wild parsnip in shape and form. But non-invasive golden Alexander is shorter in height at 1 to 2 feet tall and with a brighter yellow hue to its flowers. Golden Alexanders also do not flower in the summer like wild parsnip. Queen Anne's lace has white flowers that differ from golden Alexander's yellow blooms.
Is golden Alexander a host plant for butterflies?
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 chomping on plants and herbs including parsley, dill, fennel, and carrot tops. Planting golden Alexander attracts these caterpillars early in the season so they won't be a problem.
Wild Parsnip. North Carolina State Extension.
Queen Anne's Lace. North Carolina State Extension.