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Gardening 101: Golden Alexander

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Gardening 101: Golden Alexander

June 27, 2023

Golden Alexander, Zizia aurea

Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) is a native North American perennial wildflower known for its yellow, firework-like blooms that bloom in mid-spring—and, more importantly, for being the host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly. The butterfly lays eggs on the plant’s attractive umbels, which provide food for the eventual caterpillars.

Photograph by Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, via Flickr.

The plant has a long bloom time, about a month. It’s a bright, happy flower that is an excellent source of food for pollinators early in the spring. Golden Alexander is part of the carrot family and looks very much like wild parsnip, which contains sap that is phototoxic (skin contact with the sap, followed by exposure to sunlight, can cause a rash).

Photograph by Joshua Mayer, via Flickr. 
Above: Photograph by Joshua Mayer, via Flickr. 

Three ways to tell the difference between the golden Alexander and wild parsnip are size, leaf shape, and bloom time. Golden Alexander is lower-growing, up to three feet tall, while wild parsnip grows to four to five feet tall. The leaves of golden Alexander are smooth and finely serrated, whereas wild parsnip’s are deep and forked. Bloom time is between April and June for golden Alexander; between June and July for wild parsnip.

Cheat Sheet

Golden Alexander (lower left) fits right in in this meadow-style front yard garden in Iowa. Photograph courtesy of Kelly D. Norris, from Ask the Expert: Horticulturist Kelly D. Norris on the &#8\2\16;New Naturalism&#8\2\17;.
Above: Golden Alexander (lower left) fits right in in this meadow-style front yard garden in Iowa. Photograph courtesy of Kelly D. Norris, from Ask the Expert: Horticulturist Kelly D. Norris on the ‘New Naturalism’.
  • Golden Alexander is native to the eastern US and Canada and is hardy in zones 3 to 8. It likes full sun to part shade and can thrive in a variety of soils.
  • It grows between a foot to three feet high and spreads to about two feet.
  • The tiny yellow flowers are in flat-topped umbel clusters held high over the plant.
  • It is deer-resistant and once established, drought tolerant.
  • Self sows well. Great for a naturalized area in your garden.

Keep It Alive

Photograph by Scott Zona, via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Scott Zona, via Flickr.
  • Amend the soil with compost or other organic matter before planting.
  • Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.
  • Water regularly until established (generally the first full year in the ground).
  • Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
  • Divide every 3 to 5 years to keep plants healthy and vigorous.

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Frequently asked questions

What is Golden Alexander (Zizia Aurea)?

Golden Alexander (Zizia Aurea) is a native perennial plant that belongs to the carrot family (Apiaceae). It is known for its bright yellow flowers and attractive foliage.

What are the growing conditions for Golden Alexander?

Golden Alexander thrives in full sun to partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. It can tolerate a wide range of soil types but performs best in rich, fertile soil.

How tall does Golden Alexander grow?

Golden Alexander typically grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet, with a spread of about 1 foot.

When does Golden Alexander flower?

Golden Alexander usually blooms in late spring to early summer, producing clusters of small, yellow flowers that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

How do I propagate Golden Alexander?

Golden Alexander can be propagated through division or by collecting and sowing its seeds. It self-seeds readily, allowing it to naturalize in suitable growing conditions.

Is Golden Alexander deer-resistant?

Yes, Golden Alexander is considered deer-resistant. Its foliage has a slightly bitter taste, making it less appealing to deer and other browsing animals. However, it's important to note that no plant is completely deer-proof.

Can Golden Alexander be grown in containers?

While Golden Alexander is primarily a garden plant, it can be grown in containers as long as the container is large enough to accommodate its root system. Make sure to provide adequate water and nutrients to the plant.

How do I care for Golden Alexander?

Golden Alexander is a low-maintenance plant. It requires regular watering, especially during dry spells, and benefits from a layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture. Deadheading spent flowers will encourage more blooms.

Are there any companion plants that go well with Golden Alexander?

Golden Alexander pairs well with other native perennials such as Butterfly Weed, Black-eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower. It also complements ornamental grasses, creating a naturalistic and wildlife-friendly garden.

Does Golden Alexander have any medicinal uses?

Yes, Golden Alexander has some historical medicinal uses. Indigenous tribes used it to treat various ailments, including digestive disorders and respiratory issues. However, it is always recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using any plant medicinally.

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