One of the showier Spring Natives that can grow in forests or prairies is Golden Alexander. An excellent choice for attracting various small pollinators and butterflies, it is relatively easy to grow and can help keep your garden full of blooms before the more common flowers begin blooming. I’ve been growing this flower for years and can share all that I’ve learned with you.
In this article:
- What is Golden Alexander
- What are the benefits of Golden Alexander
- How to grow and care for Golden Alexander
- Identification / Characteristics
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Golden Alexander
- Where to buy Golden Alexander
- Uses of Golden Alexander
- Final thoughts
What is Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to eastern North America. Scientifically known as Zizia aurea, it grows 2-3′ tall in full sun, medium to moist soil that drains well. Blooming yellow flowers for approximately one month in Spring, it attracts numerous pollinators likes bees, wasps, and hosts the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Golden Alexander is a plant we’ve grown to love. Initially I only grew it in the hopes of attracting more Black Swallowtail butterflies. I also knew that it is a very early Spring bloomer, starting as early as April and being in full bloom by early May. And in this way it would really help the pollinators as there aren’t as many nectar sources during that time frame. So it would make our micro prairie a better habitat provider.
However, it wasn’t until its 3rd year that I truly appreciated the blooms as my plants finally reached full size. These flowers really put on a stunning display of color! They finally came into full size, reaching at least 3’ height and 2’ spread. It was a great location too being so close to our DIY bee hotel. I’ve since spread seed to a couple other locations in our garden, and how to see some more volunteers, as the bright yellow display is really beautiful in early Spring. I’ve found this native perennial to bloom for about a month long, which is a long duration for any perennial.
Be sure to check scroll to the bottom of the article to see a brief video overview of this plant
Golden Alexander Facts
- This early Spring bloomer is a member of the carrot / parsley family.
- It typically grows from 1.5-3′ tall
- Prefers full sun and moist soil, although it doesn’t seem to be too bothered in mid-summer when it can get dry (in my garden)
- The flower looks similar to the dreaded ‘Wild Parsnip’ that has successfully invaded North America. However it blooms early in the Spring while Wild Parsnip blooms in the middle of Summer (and Golden Alexander is done by then).
- Zizia Aurea is a good nectar source for short tongued bees.
- Golden Alexander is a sturdy flower that will stand tall and upright, and can provide support to other nearby plants.
Native Range of Golden Alexander
The primary native range of Golden Alexander is Eastern North America. From Manitoba to Texas, and East to the Atlantic Ocean.
Golden Alexander Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Zizia aurea|
|Common Name(s)||Golden Alexander|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||Eastern United States, USDA hardiness zones 3-8|
|Bloom Duration, Color||Four weeks, yellow|
|Height||2-3′ tall (60-90 cm)|
|Spacing / Spread||18 inches (45 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Types||Sandy loam to clay loam|
|Moisture||Medium to moist soil|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Bees, wasps, butterflies.|
What are the Benefits of Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander blooms beautiful yellow flowers for approximately one month in Spring. This can help bridge any blooming gaps between early Spring ephemerals and early Summer flowers such as Monarda or Beebalm.
It is able to grow well in a variety of conditions. I grow this in full sun on a slope and it thrives and has spread. While you are also likely to encounter in dappled sunlight along or near the forest edge. It can fit in many environments.
Golden Alexander hosts caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. If you aren’t familiar, the Black Swallow tail is about the size of a Monarch butterfly, and is common in the Eastern United States. Growing a large number of this plant increases the chances of seeing caterpillars.
Golden Alexander does well in full sun (6 hrs/day) but can tolerate a bit less if it is under the occasional tree. It grows wild in powerline cuts, meadows, along the edge of woodlands – anywhere it can get sun but still get some moist soil.
Soil texture requirements
For soil texture, Golden Alexander does well from sandy loam to clay. It does not do well in soil that drains too fast, as it can dry out. If you wish to grow Golden Alexander and have sandy soil, you should consider either using some mulch or amending the soil with compost to improve water retention.
Caring for Golden Alexander
There isn’t much care required for this plant. If it lasts the first season in the growing conditions that it tolerates, you shouldn’t have to do anything extra. So that is probably the only thing – if it gets dry or you have a drought, you may need to give it some water. Although I’ve not noticed any drought problems with my specimens.
Since the plant is native, it has evolved to coexist in our ecosystems. It will not require any special fertilizer.
This native perennial prefers full sun and moist conditions. Partial shade is OK, but the plant will be shorter and have less flowers.
Golden Alexander may self seed in disturbed or bare soil. You may need to thin or pull unwanted seedlings in Spring. If you wait until summer, it will be much more difficult as the soil will be drier, and the roots more established.
Growing Golden Alexander from Seed
The seeds of Golden Alexander germinate best in cool soil, and require cold/moist stratification. You can achieve the cold stratification requirements by either doing it in the fridge, or Winter Sowing. Many references state that it is generally a difficult plant to grow from seed.
To winter sow Golden Alexander, fill a suitable container with moist potting soil, and press the seed into the surface. You do not need to bury it as long as the potting soil doesn’t fully dry out.
Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade, and the seed should germinate in the Spring. Once the seedlings have 2-3 sets of true leaves, you should consider thinning or separating the seedlings.
Direct sowing Golden Alexander
A few years ago (2018?) I direct sowed seed in autumn while harvesting other flower seeds. I simply sprinkled them on a bare patch of soil in my micro-prairie and now I have a large cluster seedlings. So, the easiest way is to just press seeds into the soil in the fall, and know what the seedlings look like (see pic below). That way you won’t mistake them for weeds. Then you just need to thin them as they grow, so that you don’t overcrowd your plants.
Identification and Characteristics of Golden Alexander
The stems of Golden Alexander are smooth (hairless), round, and light green in color. They generally grow around 2-3′ (60-90 cm) tall in full sun environments. And in partial shade or woodlands, they will be much less, typically around 1′ tall (30 cm).
Golden Alexander will have compound leaves that are odd-pinate, medium green in color, serrated margins, and be attached with long petioles. The individual leaflets are roughly 3″ long by 2″ wide, lanceolate to cordate in shape, and sometimes have lobes.
The flowers are arranged in ~3″ diameter compound umbels at the end of the upper stems. Each umbel will have around 21 flowers, and each individual flower is about 1/8″ diameter (3 mm). There are five small yellow petals.
Golden Alexander will bloom for about a month in Spring, starting just after early Spring Ephemerals have finished blooming (Bluebells, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, etc). About 1-2 months after blooming, seed heads will form. Each flower will produce a single flat seed.
How to save Golden Alexander Seeds
To save Golden Alexander seeds, you just need to clip off the seed heads in late Summer / early Fall when the seed heads turn brown/dry. Then you can just rake the seeds off in between your fingers. This is a very easy plant to harvest seed from. It is also one of the cleanest as there is almost no chaff.
The roots system of Golden Alexander consists of stout fibrous roots.
Golden Alexander vs Wild Parsnip
One of the look-a-likes of Golden Alexander is the invasive plant, Wild Parsnip. These plants are very similar in terms of blooms, as they both have yellow flowers and compound leaves. And, they both host Swallowtail butterflies.
But the primary difference is in the bloom time and leaves. Golden Alexander will bloom in Spring, while Wild Parsnip blooms later in Summer. Also, the leaves are very different in that Golden Alexander will have 3-5 leaflets while Wild Parsnip will have many more. Also, the margins of Golden Alexander are finely serrated while Wild Parsnip margins (edge of leaf) are more coarsely serrated.
Where you can buy Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Wildlife associations of Golden Alexander
Short tongued pollinators visit this plant as a good early season nectar source. The actual flowers are very tiny, maybe 1/16” diameter. And that makes it easy for them to gain access to the nectar. This plant is also the hose for the Black Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes asterius.
I’ve never seen any animal damage any of my plants. So deer and rabbits seem to avoid the leaves and flower. Perhaps this is due to it being a member of the carrot or parsley family.
Golden Alexander Uses
This plant can make a really stunning display in early spring. It seems to bloom for approximately 1 month, which is a long duration for most perennials. I have mine in my Micro Prairie, and have started several other patches. Clustering plants really makes the bright yellow flowers ‘Pop’ while most other vegetation is still emerging. That being said, this can make a great border, or in the middle to back of a flower bed.
Since it attracts a number of pollinators early in the season, you can really help your local bee population by having several of these plants. But clustering several of these flowers, or a planting in a row would make a stunning display. The images you see here of the full plant is 3 plants planted 18″ apart in a triangle in my garden. By the third year the cluster of flowers was 3-4′ wide, and very prominent.
Native American uses
Warning – this plant being a member of the carrot and parsley family, one should avoid consuming any part. This is the same family as Poison Hemlock and Wild Parsnip.
That being said, I could find documentation of one Native American Tribe, the Meskawki, who used the flower stalks to help treat headaches. But I could locate no other medicinal uses of this plant.
Golden Alexander is a beautiful Spring flower that is surprisingly showy. It has a longer bloom duration than many other Spring flowers, and will provide nectar and pollen for a variety of pollinators when not much else is blooming. Finally, as a host plant it can be a valuable part of your local ecosystem. Just make sure you plant enough to support some caterpillars (at least 3).
Video of Golden Alexander
 – Zizia aurea, USDA NRCS. Accessed 11MAY2023.
 – Belt, Shawn. Golden Alexanders USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet. NRCS, National Plant Materials Center Beltsville, Maryland. 2008. Accessed 11MAY2023.
 – Johnson, Lorraine, 100 easy-to-grow native plants for American gardens in temperature zones, Toronto ; Buffalo, N.Y. : Firefly Books, 1999, pp158.
 – Haan, Nathan L., MaryCarol R. Hunter, and Mark D. Hunter. “Investigating predictors of plant establishment during roadside restoration.” Restoration Ecology 20.3 (2012): 315-321.
 – LaFollette, Eliot. “SEEDS OF DIVERSITY.” Iowa Department of Natural Resources Prairie Seed Harvest Team, 2005. Accessed 11MAY2023
 – Zizia Aurea, North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 11MAY2023.
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