Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Golden Alexander

Our Wildflower Wednesday star of the month is Golden Alexander. It's a lovely wildflower and should have been a Wildflower Wednesday star years ago, but, it has always been over shadowed by the showier early blooming Aquilegias, Baptisias and Phloxes.

That is until this year, when I noticed how nicely it had seeded around the garden.
I don't understand why they are so rarely planted. It's a stellar plant for early season color and the small flowers are an important and easily accessible food for tiny pollinators. There's a lot of other flowers in bloom when the Zizia flower in my garden, but, colder climate gardeners, I think this is a must have plant for your wildflower garden!
tucked in between an ex-aster and goldenrods
I thought them sweet when I planted them half a dozen years ago, and, have come to value their lovely yellow presence and their pollinator magnetism. They look beautiful when massed and viewed from across a garden, but, I like them best up close, where I can see the pollinator action.
Blooming begins in late spring and continues for about a month. 
If you like critter action in your garden, you'll find it on Zizia. They're very attractive to butterflies and to short-tongued insects. I see little carpenter bees, tiny beetles and other  fast flying critters when the sun finally makes its way over the trees and the garden warms up. They never hold still for photos, so you'll have to trust me and go ahead and plant this wildlife valuable beauty in your garden.
Deep green, leathery, handsomely foliage
Zizias are members of the carrot or Apiaceae family. They have rounded or flat topped compound umbels (think umbrella and you'll never forget) of tiny yellow florets that produce both nectar and pollen. Each umbel averages 2-3” across and can contain as many as 250 florets that are about 1/8” wide (from Illinois Wildflowers).
That is a lot of goodness in those tiny flowers and their nectar is easily accessible to short tongued bees and other critters
That's a powerfully attractive flower head for pollinating critters.

 Like other members of the carrot family (fennel, dill, parsley, cilantro, lovage and chervil), Zizia is a food source/host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly and its caterpillar, but many other small pollinators and beneficial insects are attracted to the flowers.

 Zizia aurea is a classic carrot family member and knowing its characteristics would make identifying it and other Apiaceae easy peasy in a woodland. Look for clustered small white or yellow flowers that make you think of an umbrella spokes! The clusters are called umbels and are actually individual flowers on stalks arranged like the spokes of an umbrella. You can practice in a herb/vegetable garden where you likely to find many carrot family member.

Golden Alexanders bloom in April in my Zone7, Middle Tennessee garden. Native to Tennessee and Davidson county where I live, they are usually found in wooded bottomlands, stream banks, moist meadows, and floodplains. They're native from Canada to Florida and east of the Rockies. They're a good choice for heavy clay soils in semi-shade to full sun. They're happy in moist soil but, once established they have some drought tolerance. They've been happy at Clay and Limestone and I never worry that our wet winters will kill them.

If you garden for pollinators, especially butterfly, you won't be disappointed with Golden Alexander. So give it a try. If it's happy you can enjoy a massed golden show. 


Genus: Zizia
Species: aurea
Common Name: Golden Alexander
Family: Apiaceae
Flowering: flowers in April-May in my middle Tennessee Zone 7 garden
Native Range: Eastern Canada to southern United States
Zone: 3 to 8
Size:  Height: 1.50 to 3.00 feet Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Bloom: yellow, umbel
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Soil: Heavy clay,
Maintenance: Water in droughty times if newly established. Unwanted seedlings might be an issue
Foliage: Attractive
Pollinators: Zizia is a food source for short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Black Swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar and lay eggs on the foliage and when the eggs hatch the caterpillars will feed on its leaves.
Propagation: Plant in the spring for good success. It spreads by seeds.
Wildlife: Has never been predated by deer or voles.
Comments: A delightful plant to allow to seed itself about in a damp sunny meadow. Use in a rain garden or in natural garden. Plant with Carex, Aquilegias, Packera aurea and other plants that like moist soil. Golden Alexander also attracts and hosts a number of beneficial insects that are predatory or parasitoid on many common garden pest insects.(Illinois Wildflowers)

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see my Golden Alexanders! Thanks for joining in and if you are new to Wildflower Wednesday, it's about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. This is a wild one that I just love. The yellow is such a clear yellow and it will grow anyplace. I have never seen caterpillars on it. Usually my wildlings bloom a little later than yours but this year with all the warmer than usual weathers my Golden Alexanders are in full bloom now.

  2. Those flowers are lovely. And it got me thinking that if the deer keep coming in my yard to eat all the flowers, there will be nothing left for the bees and butterflies. Another reason to round them up and take them away, IMO.

  3. Beautiful photos, Gail! I remember seeing a mass planting of these at the Chicago Botanic Garden during the Chicago Fling back in '09 and deciding then that I had to have some in my own garden. I've planted seeds with no luck, and last year I planted a few seedlings I purchased from Prairie Nursery. I was so excited the other day when I saw them finally starting to bloom--success!

    1. I remember, too, and that when when I planted them! So glad you have had success with them, too.

  4. Hi Gail, Yellow is the cheeriest color in the garden and Golden Alexanders are lovely. Thank you for highlighting them. I will have to look them up to see if they are on the MA native flower list. I'm for any flower that is a pollinator magnet! Happy gardening, Sally

  5. Oh, you are featuring one of the plants I love! I did not realize they prefer to be moist. They self sow around our yard, but are easy to dig out to share, which I do each spring. The young ones here are blooming, but the larger, established ones are not yet. I have seen the black swallowtail caterpillars on them, so am trying to decide whether I am going to plant less parsley.

  6. I think one reason folks don't plant Zizia aurea is that they are hard to find!

    (Catch-22, I know. If more people wanted them, probably the nurseries would offer them. But people don't know about them, because the nurseries don't offer them!)

    I looked and looked, but couldn't find Zizia aurea anywhere!

    (I suppose I could try to find seeds later in the wild?)

    Eventually, I found quart-size heart-leaved Alexanders (Zizia aptera) at Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. That one's native in Tennessee too, so I bought some and planted this spring.

    So far, I can't say that I'm terribly impressed. Don't get me wrong - they're nice, but not "Wow!" plants. But I can see they'd be awesome in masses or drifts, so I'm hoping they survive, seed around and spread. I got them both for the pollinators and also in hopes that they will serve as a butterfly host plant. Supposedly Z. aptera can take drier conditions than Z. aurea (but I don't know if it has the same tolerance for winter wet on saturated clay soil).

    I do have lots of monarch cats in the garden this year on my milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata and A. viridis), so that's exciting anyway!! :)

  7. Great plant to feature! Definitely one you should observe closely for the little creatures. Great pictures and post!

  8. I planted mine last year and this is the first year for flowering. As I have a mainly native garden, the little yellow umbels popping up right now are my first flowers of the season here in Canada. I'm looking forward to some self-seeding of that cheery yellow! I agree with others, it is strange how hard they are to find for sale, even among native growers.

    I also planted some among my daughter's 'stumpery' with oenothera pilosella and spiderwort. Looking forward to seeing it all in bloom (and hoping it looks like I imagined it!)

    I hear the fall colour is lovely too.

    Thanks for the cheery and informative post!

  9. Gail, thank you for hosting Wildflower Wednesday. It is always a pleasure to see what you have blooming. I wanted to let you know I quoted you in my post. Do check to make sure I did not get anything out of context. My mind is often muddled, especially when I see a flower blooming.


  10. I love this plant, Gail! We frequently find it when we go hiking during late spring and early summer here in Wisconsin. Thanks for hosting this meme!

  11. I'm in for Wildflower Wednesday! All about buying responsibly.

  12. One of my favorites - after I 'discovered it' blooming on my creek. Funny, it's an early-ish bloomer here (far southern NC Piedmont). Thanks for highlighting it and giving it its due.

  13. Our garden is two years old. Moving plant by plant to biodiversity friendly.

  14. Yesterday was so hot here in Kentucky, so I spent time in my shade garden hanging with the wildflowers. I love the Foamflower (Tiarella), with their fuzzy blooms and the Wild Larkspur. Plus the False Salomon Seal was graceful starting to hang its bells.... I love the simplistic beauty of wild flowers.

  15. I'm thinking this is in the same family as dill, with the flowers being so similar. Anything yellow in the garden is going to make me smile.

  16. A very sweet plant and one that is new to me.

  17. Yes it is lovely, reminds me of the Queen Anne's lace, though maybe it gets more attention than this one. Now i have some wildflowers as i am going out again for other things but i tend to take photos of wildflowers of cours. Ours though are not as showy as in the temperate climate. Sorry Gail for my question about WW in the previous post, as i didn't notice that i over-pushed down the page not seeing i am already opening the comment window for last month, hehe. Thanks.

  18. Gail, You continue to do such a beautiful job of posting!! I am in the mood to get "back at it" a little more!! Do you remember sending me Tennessee Coneflower seeds several years ago? They were so beautiful; distinctively different from our native echinacea. They lasted here for about 5 years... But it was fun while they lasted! I think if you often! Happy Spring! SG

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  20. Someday I will have a post with which to join your Wildflower Wednesday, Gail! I have three unfinished "drafts!" Ha.

  21. What a sweet, delicate wildflower peeking up out of the garden. I’ve never seen this one - it might be too hot for it in our part of the country.

  22. Beautiful.
    I loved meeting you.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson