Golden Alexander – Grow and Care


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 short-tongued pollinators as there aren’t as many nectar sources during that time frame.  So it would make our micro prairie a better habitat provider. zizia aurea plant flower golden alexander 

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.zizia aurea bee hotel

Growing Conditions

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.  Clay soil is just fine for this perennial, as well as loam. The only soil type that should really be avoided is anything that drains too fast and can get dry, such as sand.  This plant seems to do well in my rocky clay soil.

Caring for Golden Alexander

There isn’t much care required for this plant!  If it lasts the first season in the correct conditions, you shouldn’t have to do anything to it if it is in a semi-moist location.  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.  I have 3 full sized plants packed close together, and haven’t noticed any fungus on any leaves, or any other problems for that matter.  

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 Bloom zizia aurea

Garden 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 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.

Overall this plant seems to be well behaved for me.  As I have only seen ‘volunteer’ seedlings where I scattered seed.  The seed is somewhat large, and isn’t going to be blown all over by the wind.

Growing Golden Alexander from Seed

The seeds of Golden Alexander only germinate in cool soil, and require cold/moist stratification.  Many references state that it is generally a difficult plant to grow from seed. I winter sowed my initial plants in starter pots, and I had a poor germination rate, of less than 50%.  But I direct sowed seed last autumn while harvesting other flower seeds by just sprinkling 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.

Golden Alexander seedling
Golden Alexander Seedlings. I had just scattered some seed the previous year, and voila – dozens of free plants!

Golden Alexander seed planting depth

You don’t really need to bury the seeds.  Just press them into the soil, and give a light dusting of soil on top.  Then moisten, and keep moistened.  This is best to do in the fall or winter – aka winter sow the plants.  I’ve read that these only will germinate in cool soil temperatures, which makes them kind of unique compared to most other flowers.  Because of this I have only winter sowed them, or just scattered seeds in an area where I wanted more plants to grow.zizia aurea seeds

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.  Golden Alexander Seed head zizia aurea

Faunal Associations

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

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.

However, I’ve seen various sources stating that the flowers and leaves have been used by various native american tribes as well as some western herbalists.  But, as usual, they are being used to treat ailments that we already have over the counter medicine for.  So, I prefer to use the pharmacy rather than experiment with any plant that has similarities to some of Wild Parsnip or Hemlock.

Video of Golden Alexander

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How to Grow Golden Alexander

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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