Description & Overview

Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgundy-red fall color. You may have seen this plant and assumed it was a weed, but it is anything but. Valuable to beneficial insects, the flowers are reminiscent of goldenrod with just as much pollinator power. With their height and vibrant, sunshine yellow color, Golden Alexanders light up any lucky garden.

May also be known as Golden Zizea.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 1-3 feet

Mature Spread: 1-2 feet

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Upright, clump - forming, naturalizes.

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average to moist soils.

Flower: Yellow, umbel, with 10 - 18 umbellets.

Bloom Period: Early May – July

Foliage: Green, divided, toothed, lobed leaflets, and trifoliata basal leaves.

Fall Color: Burgundy red

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Brown, crescent - shaped, dry seed.

Suggested Uses

Golden Alexanders are found in moist soil on the edges of woods, meadows, prairies, river banks, and lake shores. Light shade is tolerated, but flowering and nectar production is best achieved in full sun. Although Golden Alexanders prefer wet sites, it is very adaptable to dry conditions once established.

Blooming in May, Golden Alexanders is a prized addition to any prairie setting or restoration area. Bright yellow flowers entice bees that just woke from winter seeking nourishment. Golden Alexander adds a unique flower shape to a pollinator or native garden, providing early-season pollen to an array of hungry creatures. This is a relatively carefree plant and is great for the beginner gardener.

Both the leaves and flowers of Golden Alexanders add a pop of color and texture, putting the “wild” into your wildflower or cottage garden.

Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgu…
Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgu…

Wildlife Value

Golden Alexanders are a host plant to the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and have a specialist mining bee, the Andrena ziziae. Mining bees are the primary pollinators of Golden Alexanders. (Pollinators of Native Plants. Heather Holm. Pollination Press. 2014. Pp 132-135.)

Azure butterflies (Celastrina spp.), Spotted Thyris (Thyris maculata), Ebony bugs (Corimelaena spp.), Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha spp.), ladybugs (Coccinellidae spp.), Mason Bees (Osmia spp.), Bumble Bees (Bombus spp.), Sweat Bees (Lasioglossum spp.), Yellow-faced Bees (Hylaeus spp.), Small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp.), Cuckoo Bees (Nomada spp.), Potter Wasps(Eumenes fraternus), Paper Wasps (Polistes fuscatus), Syrphid and Tachinid Flies (Toxomerus, Siphona spp.), Wood-boring Mason Wasps (Euodynerus foraminatus), and Crab Spiders (Thomisidae) also visit the flowers. Talk about a plant with a job!

The seeds of Golden Alexanders mature in summer, with many dropping off relatively quickly, remaining close to the plant. Some seeds stay on the plant even after the stem has died, often into winter. This is good news for songbirds who find them tasty, dropping undigested seeds or caching them for later use.

Maintenance Tips

Golden Alexanders is an easy-to-care-for plant, requiring little maintenance. Be aware that plants will readily reseed in wet, sunny sites. If this is not desired, deadheading before the seeds mature in the fall will control the spread.

Once seeds have developed, the foliage will start to depreciate as the season progresses.

Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgu…
Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgu…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

At least two types of aphids are general specialists to plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae), for you plant nerds, but then again, you already knew that). The aphids generally do not cause too much trouble. Ladybugs will typically eat the aphids, but if not, they can be sprayed off with a hose.

The foliage is slightly toxic to mammals and is typically ignored by mammals.

Golden Alexanders are in the carrot family, which is tolerant of juglone toxicity.

Leaf Lore

The genus Zizia is named after Johann Baptist Ziz, a German botanist of the late 1700s. The specific epithet aurea means ‘golden’ in reference to the flower color.

Golden Alexander is in the same family as carrots, celery, cilantro, parsley, dill, and fennel (Apiaceae). The common name, Golden Alexanders, refers to another member of the carrot family found in Europe. It’s an edible, medicinal herb that was popular back in Roman times through the Middles ages that were called Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum).

Several lookalikes could be confused for this plant including Yellow Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum aureum), another Wisconsin native that has simple basal leaves rather than trifoliate leaves. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), an exotic invasive which is taller, blooms later than Golden Alexanders. Note that Zizia species have stalkless flowers; other genera have stalked flowers.

Flowers develop from the outside of the umbel toward the center. The plant has developed a way to prevent flowers from self-pollination by ensuring the female and male parts of the flower develop at different times. Zizia practices protogyny, when the female (stigmas) parts develop before the male (anthers) parts. (Pollinators of Native Plants. Heather Holm. Pollination Press. 2014. Pp 132-135.) That’s not to say the flowers can pollinate each other, just not themselves.

The Meskwaki people made a compound of flower stalks and used it as snuff for headaches. The roots were used to help relieve fevers.

Companion Plants

Pairing prairie plants like Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum), Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa), and Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) would create a powerhouse pollinator garden with a respectable amount of diversity and variation in leaf shape, flower shape, size, and texture.

Golden Alexanders are native Wisconsin perennials found throughout the state, blooming for about a month during the summer, followed by a lovely burgu…
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Written by Beth DeLain